August 19, 2011
Parvin Dabas, Kuldip Ruhil, Vansh Bhardwaj, Ashish Nayyar, Sharat Saxena, Neena Kulkarni, Anupam Kher, Kiron Juneja Sippy, Yashpal Sharma, Tena Desae, Udit Khurana, Preeti Jhangiani
Opening scene ... A voiceover tells us that when gangsters want to finish off a member of a rival gang, there’s no better time to choose than the day of his incarceration or release from jail. You can’t be sure of the person’s location at any other time. The camera takes us to Rajbir (Parvin Dabas) who is leaving jail. While Narendra Pehelwan’s people wait for him at the front gate, he exits from the back where his friends are waiting for him. “Rajbirbhai, pichhwaade ke raaste se nikalne ke liye kitna diya?” one of them asks. “Bas, pichhwaada hi nahin diya,” he replies.
The tone is set. Actor Parvin Dabas makes a remarkably assured debut as the writer-director of Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande produced by Preeti Jhangiani. This is the story of four small-time gangsters operating in the village of Kanjhawla on the outskirts of Delhi – Rajbir and his friends who are nicknamed Doctor (Kuldip Ruhil), Ambani (Ashish Nayyar) and Sexy (Vansh Bhardwaj). Rajbir’s release from jail coincides with an agitation taking place in Kanjhawla in protest against the acquisition of farmers’ land by the Delhi government under Chief Minister Jaya Gulati (Kiron Juneja Sippy) for a factory being built by industrialist Aggarwal (Anupam Kher).
I’d recommend that you pick up a DVD of Sahi Dhandhe to find out how the bad guys try to do the right thing for their people. What’s most appealing about this film is its simplicity and Dabas’ no-frills approach to his story that lends it a quality of realism despite being entertaining. Every episode in this film had the potential to go over-the-top, but at no point does Dabas cross that invisible line. And though the issue at hand is grave, Sahi Dhandhe has an understated and appropriate sense of humour, clever dialogues that don’t sound like dialoguebaazi or the kind of clichéd crudity that we’ve come to expect in all gangster flicks, and just enough elements to keep it both enjoyable and meaningful, emotional yet light.
My favourite scene involves Rajbir trying to make a speech to the farmers, which had me chuckling at the start but left me with a lump in my throat. Later, in one of the film’s most telling moments, a TV journalist from the city sticks her mike into a villager’s face and asks, “Aapke hisaab se Land Acquisition Act mein kya tabdeeli honi chahiye?” to which she gets silence and a blank stare in response. And one night during a boisterous drinking session, when the gang is trying to figure out ways of helping the villagers who don’t want their help, Ambani laments farmer leader Malik’s insistence that he will keep the movement non-violent and apolitical. “Na politics na thod-phod. Yeh toh saale sharaafat mein hi mar jayenge,” he says. Nice.
The unusually long actors’ list (above) that I’ve given in this review is my way of saluting casting director Honey Trehan. The gang of four are remarkable though I’m torn between Ashish Nayyar and Kuldip Ruhil as my pick of the quartet. Among the talented supporting cast, a special word needs to be said for Neena Kulkarni who looks, talks and feels the part of Rajbir’s foster mother who does not want him anywhere near her agitation; Kher who metamorphoses from the faintly oily fellow chatting with the CM on the phone to the dignified businessman imperceptibly making a pass at a troublesome female journalist; Sippy as the politician whose son is her weakness; Sharat Saxena as Rajbir’s boss Fauji in a role that is a departure from the slimy villain he’s played a zillion times; and Yashpal Sharma (Malik) thankfully playing something other than a bad cop or goon here.
Cinematographer Anshul Choubey matches the tone of subtlety that Dabas evidently wanted to achieve with this film. His camera moves from a suburban village to the CM’s upmarket residence to Delhi University and back without giving us any grand sweeping shots of the city, yet managing to capture its feel. I wish the lyrics of the film’s songs were a little clearer, but I enjoyed the unobtrusive use of the background score by Siddhartth-Suhas. And the sound design by Subash Sahoo is so clean that we actually hear Malik’s nails scratching his stubble in one scene.
Sahi Dhandhe is not without its flaws. The end struck me as too simplistic and not entirely credible considering what we’ve witnessed in Singur, Bhatta Parsaul and other long-drawn-out farmers’ struggles. And once the lead four had arrived at a decision about their exact strategy, I felt the film should have approached its climax more rapidly, for a greater impact. Also, while most of the primary characters have shades of gray, the farmers are all painted as uniformly good folk which to me was a jarring reminder of the regular Hindi film stereotype about big bad city folk and bechare kisaan. Still, Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande is a gently engaging film, and I hope Parvin Dabas gets to write and direct many more films in the future.
Rating (out of five): ***
CBFC Rating: U/A with three audio cuts (The Censor Board really needs to stop reading casteism into the inoffensive use of words describing professions. They actually got the film maker to remove the word “dhobi” from a song!)
Running time: 120 Minutes
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/galatbande