Raid (2018): Just when you think the Bollywood thriller is running out of steam, there comes Raid, a film so taut and clenched, so caustic and brimming with political sarcasm that you wonder… Where was director Raj Kumar Gupta hiding himself for so many years? So yes, he made Ghanchakkar… We all make mistakes, okay? Not that I minded Gupta’s unexpected swing into zany comedy. But smartly spun tautly narrated political thrillers are his forte. Aamir and No One Killed Jessica had proved it. Raid proves it again.
So welcome back, Mr Gupta. Here’s your deal. An honest-to-goodness income tax officer, played with incorruptible smoothness by Ajay Devgn, who gives away nothing (atleast, nothing that we can see on his face) is pitched against a burly swarmy corrupt seedy politician in the hotbed of Lucknow’s politics.
What happens when Amay Patnaik (Devgn) takes on Rameshwar Singh (Sourabh Shukla) on the latter’s home turf? Strongly imbued in the spirit of social reform, the idealistic bureaucrat as revisited in this film, is a bit of an anomaly. Devgn’s Amay fights that very system which has created him. Idealistic heroes tend to come across as single-minded implacable determined bullies. Devgn is all of this. It is remarkable how willingly he lets Saurabh Shukla chew up every scene in which they’re together.
Editor Bodhaditya Banerjee slices across the large canvas of characters to capture people in their most anxious moments. It’s a narrative of tremendous tension and nervous anxieties but never surrendering to a frenzied cutting - away of the material to play on the urgency of the moment.
It’s done in the spirit of a pre-determined moral battle, a raider’s Ramayan so to speak, which the plot so doggedly takes on in the pursuit of a Good versus Bad morality tale where the winner often appears to be a loser because he is so one-note in his determined idealism.
Saurabh Shukla has all the fun. And Devgn lets him. It is this spirit of passive resistance that the narrative so virilely assumes that makes raid a rivetting watch. The more Devgn’s goodness shines down on the plot, the more Shukla’s decadent corruption showers its reeking beneficence down on the plot that ironically gets its sustenance not from Devgn’s Rama-like heroism but Shukla’s Ravan-esqe rhetorics.
While Devgn and his raiders of the lost assets pool their talents to create a moribund army of wealth retrievers, the film’s fuel –surcharge comes from the heated exchanges between the bureaucratic hero and the political renegade. The two actors play against one other with brilliant brio.
The supporting cast is largely credible and sometimes remarkably engaging(Shukla’s antiquated yet alert mother is a howl and ). But Ileana D’Cruz brought in for the sake of romantic glamour sticks out like a sore thumb with her patently Lukhnowi chikhan-attired performance. Not her fault, though. What can she do when the plot is almost uniformly focused on its frenetic fight against wealth stealth with loads of savage humour and unexpected pauses to consider what makes corruption such a thriving industry in our country.
By the time the raid on Rajaji’s ill-gotten wealth is over, the director has made a darkly humorous telling point on what it takes to call a dishonest politician dishonest.
Your job, perhaps. But hell, someone has to do the dirty job before another Jessica is killed randomly by a wealthy wayward reveler in a bar. Don’t miss Raid. One of its many pleasures is to watch the two principal actors in full control of their characters, even as the director guiding their exchanges , stands back to let the plot grow hot without burning itself out.
It takes a lot of will-power to stand back and let the corrupt steal the thunder from the incorruptible. Raid tells us virtuosity may be boring. But it is still a rare bird worth capturing in the palm of your hand.
Hichki (2018): There is a disarming idealism at the heart of this inspirational tale told without frills of fancy. The flights of daring that the protagonist Naina Mathur undertakes never seems irrelevant. On many occasions I found the plot veering towards a sweeping sentimentality that, given other circumstances, would be considered manipulative.
Hichki dives deep into the collective consciousness of a nation inured in prejudices and comes up with some well-served lessons on humanism tolerance and generosity. It may not be India’s To Sir With Love. But by Jove, Rani Mukerjee in what easily ranks as her career’s best performances (yes, better than Black) gives Mr Sidney Pottier a run for his heroic stature.
The plot derives its creative juices from a real-life British teacher who suffered from the Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes painful verbal dysfunction in the sufferer. It’s astonishing how Rani takes over the sufferer’s role without allowing the disease to impede her character’s ingrained sunniness of countenance.
When faced with a classroom filled with contumacious students from the slums (played by young actors who frequently act with representational emphasis) Rani’s Naina never falters, and never mind her tongue. It’s only when she is with her estranged father (Sachin Pilgoankar) that she loses her cool. Rani’s Naina’ two dining-table sequences with her screen-father are marvels of screenwriting drama, packaged and performed in pitch-perfect harmony.When the father’s patronizing sympathy gets too much Rani marches off to the kitchen to make rotis, venting her need to exhale in the kneading.
It is the slum students who needed to be a little less soap operatic. In a film where the message is emblematized in gloriously lucid episodes the ragged bunch of slumkids go too swiftly from rebellious to sweet-natured. Their changeover seems almost pre-ordained.
Not that their abrupt character transformation takes away from the blithe reformatory mood and reined-in vivacity that shoot across the narrative with splendid sincerity. Not a moment in the storytelling is lost in humbug. Every minute counts. And while some of the scenes showing Rani’s flourishing bonding with her students is keenly melodramatic the actress sails above the stagnant pools of water that the plot often encounters.
Rani Mukerjee makes her Tourette-informed character unwavering in her upbeatness and yet no giddyheaded breathless optimist. The pain comes gushing out in a sequence where she pounds and pummels her uncontrollable mouth almost as though she were sparring with her destiny.
The astounding Neeraj Kabi as the cynical teacher who thinks slum is synonymous with scum keeps his character grey without getting into grime.
What I liked about Rani’s Naina more than her textbook-perfect rapport with her students is her bonding with her mother (Supriya Pilgaonkar) and brother (Husain Dalal). I wish there was more of them in the film. I wish there were more Naina Mathurs in this world who can teach all of us a thing or two about being human without making humanism a logo on a teeshirt.
Hichki is a work of wondrous lightheartedness. Its absence of cynicism and its touching belief in the power of benevolence and generosity could get a wee overpowering for many of us who face brutal betrayals every day. But isn’t life in cinema all about alchemizing the pain and hurt into art? Hichki does that quite often and quite effectively.
Cinematographer Avinash Arun fills the frames with hope and sunshine without killing the spirit of struggle that underlines every step of Naina’s journey.
Image source: IMDb