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October 14, 1999


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On the run

Suparn Verma

Sanjay Dutt in Vaastav Vaastav is director Mahesh Manjrekar's first release, his debut film Nidaan having not been released yet. The film would have been a run-of-the-mill affair, had it not been for Sanjay Dutt and the dramatic climax.

Vaastav offers no new insight into the underworld. It follows the familiar pattern portrayed in James Cagney movies or the modern versions of Scarface.

Raghu (Sanjay Dutt) lives in a chawl with his father (Shivaji Satam), a mill worker, an unemployed brother (Mohnish Behl) and mother (Reema Lagoo). Raghu and his cronies idle their time away, playing carrom, stealing chicken and taking part in overnight soirees on the terrace of their chawl.

Things start looking up for Raghu when his father gives him a loan to start a pav bhaji stall. He sets up the stall and runs it with his friends.

As luck would have it, one of their irate customers turns out to be the brother of a well-connected goon, whose family goes by the name of 'Fracture Brothers.' Raghu tries to stop the gang from beating up his friend and in the process, ends up killing the younger Fracture brother.

On the run, Raghu and his friends are taken under the wing of Vitthal Kanya (Ashish Vidyarthi) who is a sworn enemy of the Fracture gang. Paresh Rawal plays a broker who does deals for rival gangs as well as for politicians.

A two-minute montage establishes Raghu becoming a killing machine, going after builders and other businessmen, collecting hafta and even murdering them. Babbanrao Kadam (Mohan Joshi), the home minister, makes Raghu his hatchet man.

Sanjay Dutt and Namrata Shirodkar in Vaastav Meanwhile, Sonu (Namrata Shirodkar), a prostitute Raghu visits regularly, becomes pregnant. So, they get married. By this time, Raghu has alienated his own family. His brother marries his neighbourhood sweetheart (Ektaa) and starts living separately, leaving his parents in the chawl. His marriage and job, incidentally, are both fixed with Raghu's help.

Raghu gets hooked to alcohol and cocaine, and keeps getting sucked deeper into the mire. Finally, comes a time when even the home minister orders Raghu and his associates to be killed in encounters, to distance himself from the trigger-happy Raghu and thus save his seat.

That, in short, is Vaastav which is fast-paced and taut at times, but lapses into incongruous didactic dialogues at others. Jatin-Lalit's music is one of their worst scores this year, and the songs don't fit in with the theme. The first two songs come within two minutes of each other. The background score by Sandeep Chowta is racy, though it does remind one of Satya.

Vaastav has traces of several other films in the same genre. Male bonding, as portrayed in Satya, Angaar and Gardish is a dominant feature in this film as well. But in Vaastav, Raghu's gang never comes its own simply because none of them -- save one character called 'Ded Foot' -- have been given any prominent scenes or dialogues. They are just a part of the crowd which stands around Sanjay Dutt's overwhelming presence.

Sanjay Dutt and Namrata Shirodkar in Vaastav The oft-repeated cliche of the prostitute with a heart of gold would have worked only if Shirodkar had been able to portray it convincingly.

Post Scarface, and to a certain extent, post-Godfather, Indian cinema has had a surfeit of movies with similar themes: Nayakan, Agneepath, Saathi, Gardish, Mujrim, Aatish, Zulm Ki Hukumat, Hathyaar have all shown how the innocent protagonist turns into a criminal, gets estranged from his family and finally dies a lonely repentant man.

Satya is different from this pack because there is no repentance in the hero; it is more a brutal statement of facts. The hero wants out because he wishes to settle down and live in peace, but not once is he sorry for his actions.

Vaastav, in the first 10 minutes, tries to create the bonhomie of Satya. But the rest of the film seems disjointed from this part. Raghu turns into a killing machine, but there is no story or scene to justify his actions. The explanation comes much later, in the second half, when he kills a Parsi.

The film is well shot and edited, but the dialogues are incredibly lengthy. The first scene of the film -- where Raghu's entire family gathers, his son performs the last rites and Raghu's mother narrates her son's story to the grandson -- could have been avoided to sustain the suspense.

Mahesh Manjrekar shows promise, but he needs to control his desire to preach through his film and focus more on entertaining audiences.

Sanjay Dutt in Vaastav Sanjay Dutt steals the show with one of the best performances of his career, better than Naam, Kabzaa and Hathyaar.. He is exceptional in the climax when he begs for a drop of alcohol or a sniff of cocaine even as he is on the run from the police and suffering from withdrawal symptoms. From an easy-going guy to a broken man -- the role is essayed with great care by him, maintaining a consistency throughout.

Sanju sure has come a long way and the film belongs to him.

The Mahesh Manjrekar interview

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