By Utpal Borpujari
Twenty-one years ago, in 1983, a young Sudhir Mishra had written a screenplay that remains arguably the best-ever satire on the socio-politics of the Indian urbanscape in Hindi cinema, even the whole of Indian cinema. Directed by Kundan Shah, that film was Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a cult classic that needs no detailing to anyone familiar remotely with Indian cinema. Thirteen years later, in 1996, Mishra came up with Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, a mostly-grim-sometimes-funny thriller that was described as ahead of its time.
Why recalling these two movies is important here is because after another 15 years, Mishra explores in his latest film, Yeh Saali Zindagi, a subject that has a world somewhat similar to that of IRKSN, though the time and milieu changes. And the treatment to the subject has glimpses of his brilliance as a writer that had come through JBDY. Of course, JBDY is a classic, and to repeat that level of excellence in writing would be virtually impossible, even for Mishra.
But like in JBDY, the characters in YSZ too are full of flesh and blood – and quirks – sometimes almost making the viewing experience surrealistic. To give an example, even each of the henchmen of Kuldeep (Arunodoy Singh, in a layered and completely unrestrained performance that was required for the character of a small time hoodlum from Old Delhi who wants to do a big job before quitting and settling down with his viciously-charming wife and kid) have what it takes to make them memorable, and are not just mere bystanders crowding the background as it happens in most Hindi films.
YSZ’s plotline is simple, almost a one-liner. Without divulging the plot, one can just summarise it by saying it is two love stories entangled towards a common end in the backdrop of violence and intrigue that binds two disparate strata of the society. These strata beyond the surface difference, are basically the same in their viciousness and lack of value of human lives and emotions when it comes to chasing the moolah. Here in this world, everyone is a crook, and only the degree of their crookedness varies. If some can kill at the drop of a hat, others like club-singer Priti (Chitrangada Singh, in an assured performance that re-emphasises her Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi brilliance) give glimpses of their grey sides in the face of adversity (like when she takes the finger print of the body of her ‘brother-like’ partner when pushed to the wall).
Mishra’s characters, in fact, are as colourful in their greyness as they were in IRKSN, even as each of them have their own ‘normal’ selves that make them part of the crowd when they are not in their elements. We see such people – the men and women in YSZ – on the streets of Delhi everyday.
Irrfan Khan as Arun, the chartered accountant to an unscrupulous businessman Mehta (a delightful Saurabh Shukla) is in his usual elements, making his sophisticated-crook-with-an-inscrutable-lover’s-heart look utterly plausible. And Aditi Rao Hyderi, despite her sophisticated looks that sometimes look out of sync with the character of Shanti, the firebrand girl from the bye lanes of Old Delhi who hates-‘n’-loves her husband Kuldeep, gives a finely layered performance that contrasts her demure widowed aunt’s role in Dilli 6 and does justice to her acting qualities that were first seen in the Tamil film Sringaram.
The film begins on a slightly clumsy note with the director choosing to go for a lengthy introductory phase – including a slightly irritating decision to introduce each character and location (in the latter repeatedly for even the same location) through ‘supers’ on the screen. But the fast pacing of the narrative and a screenplay that dares the viewer to be on a constant alert to catch every little quirky facet of the characters without resorting to any other gimmick comes as the saving grace along with some intelligent editing. Indeed, the real strength of YSZ lies in the intelligently-layered writing and characterizations and the witty dialogues that reflect the Delhi street lingo (courtesy Manu Rishi of Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! & Phas Gaya Re Obama fame). A big downside of the film, however, is the loud background score which sometimes jars. Mishra’s ensemble casting for the film, like in IRKSN, is impeccable, with the talented-but-seldom-seen Prashant Narayanan giving a particularly wonderful performance.
YSZ is a film that is not for the brain dead, and it is on this count that the film might suffer in a nation where no-brainers often score at the Box Office. It’s a moody film like most of Mishra’s films have been, but the director has also strived to move away from his earlier narrative style towards a more restless treatment. It is here that YSZ fits the bill as a likely sequel to IRKSN, time and space updated.
(Published on http://www.dearcinema.com, 04-02-2011)