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May 3, 2002
Lal Salaam: a large dose of realism
It's all about the revolution. And rape, pillage, corruption, revenge and bloodshed.
Sanjiv Karambelkar's Lal Salaam deals with the Naxalite movement. It is based on real life incidents of Adivasis fighting for their existence in the face of the rampant corruption pervading everyday life, especially from the police.
Kanna (Sharad Kapoor) is a villager (one of the luckier ones) studying in the city to be a doctor. He is in love with Rupi (Nandita Das) who is illiterate. Her only wish is for him to complete his studies so that they can get married. Kanna's brother Ghisu (Vijay Raaz), unlike his brother, is illiterate.
Life go on till Kanna leaves for the city to complete his studies. He warns his brother against getting swayed by the Naxalites, as he becomes aware of Ghisu's fascination with the Lal Salaam movement.
Ghisu is terrorised by the police, beaten, and humiliated badly by the Forest Ranger (Akhilesh Mishra). He manages to escape, only to be found by the Naxalites in the jungle and is taken to the leader, Rajjaiya (Makarand Deshpande). Filled with hatred and revenge, Ghisu joins the movement as a comrade.
Meanwhile, his folks are worried. Things get worse when Rupi is cornered by the corrupt police inspector Deshpandey (Sayaji Shinde) and then raped. This leaves her devastated. She too does not return home.
The vendetta begins. The police increase their dragnet, while the revolutionaries spread across the villages trying to garner support and take revenge on the exploiters.
Meanwhile, Kanna returns to the village to find both Rupi and Ghisu missing. He continues his work but tries to locate Rupi, knowing she is alive somewhere. An injured Rajaiiya recovers with the help of Kanna, who refuses to sympathise with the cause.
Does Rupi seek revenge? Is she reunited with Kanna?
The film attempts to show all sides of the story. On one hand is the corrupt police force driven by money, alcohol and lust. Then there are the innocent villagers caught in the middle. The Naxalites have their own agenda --- driven by revenge, hate and disillusionment with the system, they take to arms as a measure to get justice.
Instead of taking sides, the film provides a few thought-provoking moments. Take the scene where Kanna treats the injured Rajjaiya who asks the doctor to join them. Kanna refuses saying that taking arms against the government is unacceptable for him.
The film has a docu-drama feel, probably because of the subject. A few songs provide audio relief but don't do much else. Imagine what happens when gun-wielding revolutionaries suddenly start spouting songs?
There are some strong performances by the actors. Das, who plays first the innocent woman looking forward to marriage and then a woman whose dreams have been shattered and turns into a revolutionary. She seems to be getting her share of rape scenes (the last one being in Bawandar) but thankfully, the viewer is spared of the graphic details.
Vijay Raaz, after his delighful performance as the pandal organiser in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, does justice as he goes through a gamut of emotions --- confused, wronged and avengeful.
Sharad Kapoor, too, is quite convincing as a man who sticks to his beliefs despite everything.
As the Inspector, Shinde delivers the right expressions. Notable are the scenes where he is accepting a bribe for organising police protection. Also, his scenes with his assistant when he drowns himself in alcohol, frustrated with his lot in life.
Deshpande is believable as he goes about his mission, commanding his team of men and women dedicated to the cause of liberating the tribals from the evil grip of the state.
There are no happy endings to a story like this one. All in all, a commendable attempt to capture the mechanics behind the revolutionary group.
The cinematography is fast. While the locales that form the background don't look dangerous enough to be hideouts for revolutionaries, they are quite scenic.
If you're not fond of violence, this film would make for very uncomfortable viewing. While the film is unlikely to capture the votes of the general public, the filmmaker does deserve a salute for treading into dangerous and unknown territory. No candy floss here, no view from behind rose-coloured spectacles. Just blood, gore and a large dose of realism.
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