July 29, 2011
Uvika Choudhary, Sarrtaj Gill, Om Puri, Mohnish Bahl, Anooradha Patel, Manoj Pahwa, Govind Namdeo
Indifferent production values and an inconsistent tone can kill a film on even the gravest of issues. That’s the tragedy of Khap. The subject of honour killings presided over by extra-constitutional authorities is a burning issue in India today. Sadly, the film Khap is too tacky to be taken seriously.
Khap takes us to the village of Sajod where honour killings of young couples who marry within the same gotra (clan) or even the same grouping of hamlets are being passed off as suicides. The police help cover up the truth, the village leaders are confident that no politician will dare to take them on, but when the media sits up and takes notice, a human rights commission delegation is sent from Delhi to investigate. The fact-finding mission is headed by an honest official Madhur Chaudhary (Mohnish Behl). As it happens, Madhur is the son of Khap Panchayat chief Omkar Chaudhary (Om Puri), and had left the village 16 years earlier to get away from a father perpetuating such medieval practices. Not surprisingly, a point arrives in the story when Omkar’s granddaughter and her boyfriend (Uvika Choudhary and Sarrtaj Gill) are trapped in the Khap’s antediluvian world.
The basic outline of this story is nice enough, it’s the execution that is mediocre. The biggest problem is that the director does not seem to know how to maintain a mood once he’s built it up. And so, a young couple are almost run over by a tractor as a punishment for their refusal to annul their marriage when objections are raised to it … but a few scenes later they appear on screen in a bubbly and chirpy mood, as if nothing particularly traumatic occurred in their lives just a few hours earlier. A girl loses the father she adored … but joyously agrees to get married to her boyfriend just days after the tragic death in her family, takes off on cheery honeymoon, prances and dances around in scenes right through which she appears to have completely forgotten that her beloved dad was murdered. And at the only point where there is an effort to enhance the grim tone through song and dance, the result is almost laughable: two youngsters whose relationship is under threat, break into what appears to be some sort of profound reference to Sati, she in a flaming red outfit, fires burning all around.
I think I should have given up hope right at the start when the lead couple were shown engaged in an Internet chat – he reads out every word he types, we are then shown those same words flashing on her screen, she reads them out again, giggles, types out her own message and the cycle repeats itself. One note turns into an animated character that flies off the computer screen and travels all the way from one home to the other … yes, we the viewers are taken through THAT ENTIRE TRIP!
Clearly then, Khap is not a film that can be recommended for any artistic merit. Unfortunately, its intentions too are garbled. In an evident bid to appear balanced and unbiased, the film briefly introduces us to a person who has benefited from the good work done by Khap Panchayats. This said chappie (played by Alok Nath) lectures a bunch of students on how media sensationalism has ended up portraying Khaps as monsters which they are not, and who virtually justifies Khap-ordered honour killings with a speech on genetics and the harmful effects of marrying a cousin. No doubt a point about genes needed to be made, but there couldn’t have been a worse way of doing it.
The songs in Khap are strange, the dance moves are stranger, the characterisation (especially that of Omkar Chaudhary) is confused, the hero can barely act and even a veteran like Om Puri does little to bring alive the part of a man whose horrific misdeeds catch up with him when his own family is targeted by the very Khap Panchayat which he has been leading all these years. The film’s sound design is questionable – Madhur’s cellphone ringtone, Saare jahan se achchha, actually sounds like the background score every time it plays!
On the bright side, I must say that actors Mohnish Bahl and Anooradha Patel (playing his wife) are ageing gracefully; the story of the first murder sanctioned by the Khap Panchayat is reasonably well told; I admit there’s a twist in the plot halfway through the film that did move me; and the journey of Sukhi Ram (Manoj Pahwa) and Daulat Singh (Govind Namdeo) – two residents of Sajod who were ordered to slaughter their own children by the Panchayat – are better written and better acted than anything we see in the rest of the story. But all this is not enough to redeem a film that takes its subject so lightly that it’s almost disturbing … after a series of murders which you’d assume would have left the principle players distraught, the film ends on a bright and peppy song-and-dance number in which the director makes an appearance with the hero and heroine to comical effect. What an opportunity lost!
Rating (out of five): *
CBFC Rating: U/A without cuts
Running time: 137 Minutes
Photograph courtesy: http://www.khapthefilm.com/