Release date (India):
December 26, 2014
Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Vineet Kumar Singh, Surveen Chawla, Anshikaa Shrivastava
An alcoholic mother on the verge of suicide, her wife-beating ex-husband desperate for an acting career, a child wise beyond her years and torn between divorced parents, an authoritarian spouse holding on to a college grudge – these are the primary players in director Anurag Kashyap’s latest film Ugly which turns a kidnapping case into a stinging commentary on selfishness and opportunism in human relationships.
The film is set in middle-class Mumbai, a milieu Kashyap clearly knows well. The focal point of the story is the disappearance of a little girl who was left in a car by her unthinking father when he went off to deal with a chore. Was she abducted by child traffickers? Was she taken away by someone who knows her? As the investigation proceeds, we realise that every player in this story has motivations that go beyond what they’re proclaiming to their loved ones and to law enforcers. And like that first season of the serial The Killing recently telecast on Indian TV – the case of another missing daughter – Ugly ultimately reminds us of how much harm we could do to those we love, when we are blinded even momentarily by self-interest.
Kashyap’s firm grip on the narrative loosens only towards the end of the second half, when in a bid to throw up more clever twists than were required, the film leaves too many things unsaid, too many loose ends that needed to be tied up. When did X and Y become part of the game? At what point did Z get the idea to turn a prank into a serious money-spinning enterprise? How did Z manage to convince X that A was safe?
You will understand these questions only after you watch the film. For the moment, the point here is that after a while, in trying to throw up unexpected developments that would take the audience’s breath away, the writer-director takes away instead from the film’s overall effectiveness. But Ugly’s flaws are all forgotten in that one beautifully aching climactic scene in which we finally discover what had been going on behind the scenes. That disturbing denouement rips our hearts away, reaches into our souls and demands a moment of silence as we remain glued to our seats.
Fleshing out Kashyap’s understanding of the human psyche is a striking cast put together by Mukesh Chhabra. Tejaswini Kolhapure as little Kali’s troubled mother Shalini was also in the director’s (unreleased) debut film Paanch. Here again she provides us with evidence of how much mainstream Bollywood is missing out by not roping her in more often. Their loss and ours. Rahul Bhat as Shalini’s ex is excellent. Ronit Roy is the seething volcano who plays Shalini’s second husband. In fact, the entire cast is impeccable.
Kashyap finds room for humour in the oddest of places. Ugly is grim from the start, yet features one of the most brilliantly hilarious, yet tragic and frustrating interrogation scenarios ever seen in a Hindi film thana. In one stroke, that scene throws light on the apathy of the Indian police, their ignorance, inadequate training and every other reason why the average Indian hesitates to visit police stations.
The art direction by Mayur Sharma is spot on as is Nikos Andritsakis’ intimate camerawork, creating for the audience a darkened world where sorrow and intrigue seem to lurk around every corner along with unhappy, myopic creatures.
It’s hard to let go though of the film’s big slip-up, which is the effort to be over-smart while building up suspense at a point when the human drama in the story was enough to carry it forward. Something about Ugly thus conveys the impression that more thought, care, affection and attention were devoted to writing the first half than the post-interval portion. For that reason, Ugly is nowhere close to Kashyap’s best works so far – Paanch (2003), Black Friday (2004) and the short film Pramod Bhai 23 in the omnibus Mumbai Cutting (2011). Yet, when it hits home, it hits home in a way few films have done this year. Ugly could have been a lot more. What it is as of now is worth watching all the same.
Rating (out of five): ***
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/UglyTheFilm