August 9, 2002 
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This web of lies is worth a watch
Hansal Mehta's Chhal puts a human face to the mafia

Ronjita Kulkarni

It is a well-known fact that the Hindi film industry likes to follow trends (love stories, of course, being perennial favourites). After the patriotic wave (Lagaan, Gadar, Maa Tujhe Salaam, Bharat Bhayga Vidhata), came the gangster wave (Aankhen, Company, Ansh, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Awaara Pagal Deewana).

Hansal Mehta's Chhal follows that wave.

Karan Menon (Kay Kay) is an investigative cop with a mission: to destroy underworld don Shastri (Sri Vallabh Vyas) and his heir Girish (Prashant Narayanan). For this, he has to gain their trust and join their gang. Karan does this by rescuing Girish's sister Padmini (Jaya Seal) from being kidnapped.

Karan learns the ropes quickly and becomes fast friends with Girish. On the one hand, he gets attached to the gang. On the other, he regularly supplies Inspector Dave (Naved Aslam) with information. The going is smooth until Karan falls in love with Padmini. He finds out that the cops are planning to kill Girish.

And he realises there is a bigger game being played around him --- in which he and Girish are merely pawns.

Can he save Girish? Even if he does, will Girish ever forgive him for being a khabri [snitch]? Will he ever get Padmini?

Chhal belongs to debutant Narayanan all the way. Girish is a hot-tempered, fun-loving goon, fiercely protective of his sister. Brought up in a remand home, he knows no fear. He treats Shastri as his father. Though his character is loud, Prashant does not overact.

Kay Kay, who received high praise for his performance in his debut film Bhopal Express, is commendable. He looks convincing in his angry and helpless moments. His character is more controlled and deep. His question, 'If a police officer shoots at me, what should my instructions be?' is left unanswered.

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An actress usually does not have much of a role in a gangster film. Even so, Seal's character is not just a pretty face who sings love songs. The National School of Drama graduate was first seen in Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Bengali film Uttara. Chhal is her first Hindi film. The love angle in the film serves to lighten the film from its hard-hitting violence.

The ensemble cast is not well etched. The power and fear that Shastri attracts is not felt. Vallabh Vyas maintains a wooden face throughout the film, so that his thoughts are completely left to your imagination. Naved Aslam merely does the job of acting like a cop. His emotions are never captured. Raja (Sanjay Mishra), comes across as a humourous man but that's as far as it goes. Perhaps the director should have paid more attention to these actors.

Kay Kay, Jaya Seal in Chhal However, Chhal is a fast-paced film which does not lose sight of its main story. The story is written by former staffer Suparn Verma, who also has a bit role in the film. The film is well narrated. It starts off with the present situation, goes into flashback and then cuts back to time present.

Viju Sha's background score is good. The film comes alive with its suspense and intense moments with the music.

Hansal Mehta's previous venture, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (Tabu, Manoj Bajpai) bombed at the box-office. Both his films deal with a young man trapped in a world of gangsters.

Chhal, with a relatively new cast and small budget, is more realistic, as he gives the gangsters a more human look.

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