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Apaharan: A riveting commentary
Subhash K Jha | December 05, 2005 20:23 IST
Nobility blended with mobility -- sounds interesting! Prakash Jha's Apaharan, harsh and brutal political commentary on the state of anarchy a.k.a Bihar, makes for riveting viewing. The director culls facts from real life which is why you cannot but shudder at the sheer disintegration of moral values. Jha portrays a strange world where characters discusss kidnap victims as 'damaged goods' and 'intact piece'.
I remember my favourite Jha film Mrityudand opened with the image of a mother and a daughter after being chased, are brutally slayed by frenzied villagers. A revisiting that sequence makes me cringe even today. Witch-hunting in its varied forms continues to haunt Jha's cinema, as is evident from Apaharan.
Compared to Jha's earlier productions, violence in this film is far more filmy, more harnessed, though no less honest. The hinterland remains as harsh but age, perhaps, has mellowed the director's vision. For, more than explaining the intricacies of the kidnapping industry in Bihar, Apaharan whisks you away into a family realm of father-son confrontations earlier patented by gripping parent-son drama (immortalised by Amitabh Bachchan) like Ramesh Sippy's Shakti, Yash Chopra's Deewaar and Mukul Anand's Agneepath.
Jha is always reluctant to let the emotions spill. Barring two sequences (one towards the first-quarter and the other at the end) Devgan and Agashe seldom come out in the open. You often wish you were given a better view of the protagonist's innerscape -- how Devgan drifts away from his father's rigid ideology to join hands with the freewheeling communally clenched morality of Nana Patekar's character and redeems himself by becoming a police infomer.
The leaps in Devgan's astonishing graph are achieved without punctutations. On this occasion, Jha is determined not to lose his audience for even a minute. Though he sacrifices the introspective interludes, he succeeds in making this his most gripping tale to date.
The principal and peripheral characters (Yashpal Sharma, Murli et al, all excellently in-sync) often look like Ram Gopal Varma's gallery of goons transposed to the Bihari badland. In fact, the Patekar-Devgan guru-sishya relationship (read tussel)appears a carryover of the Devgan-Vivek Oberoi conflict in Varma's Company.
This time Jha is as much interested in the politics of the country as in the politics of commercial cinema. He blends both in a compelling mix of thrills and politics. Often the rough edges and a trademark savagery make you wince (for instance in the sequence where goon Yashpal Sharma makes Devgan lick his spit — ugh!). Still, there's a remarkable balance between the brutal and the brittle qualities of life achieved through mildly touching and savagely humorous demonstrations of human violence.
A few of the sequences are sure to make you smile. For instance, you enjoy the sheer amateurishness with which Devgan first attempts at kidnapping.
Apaharan is a film made in a hurry about a society which is the abyss of chaos. Jha knows the fundas well. Fortunately for his film though, he doesn't flaunt his research.
Doing away with the dryness that marked the director's last film Gangaajal, Apaharan sweeps you into the anarchic arch.
The effect is like a punch in your solar plexus. The dusty crusty sinister bylanes of a small-town in Bihar where the Muslim politician Tabrez (Patekar) rules beyond the khaki regime, nefarious activities of various politically-backed factions….yes, these are the director's all-too-familiar gullies. Jha makes us a part of them with a surety of purpose that angers the audiences, provokes them into questioning their lopsided socio-political system without losing the thread of a cinematic experience.
In Apaharan, Jha has achieved a balance -- not always neat but constantly riveting -- between drama and documentation, irony and tension without letting go of his beliefs. He has his dependable cast to support his cause. Nana Patekar, Yashpal Sharma and Mukesh Tiwari (as an honest cop trying hard not to buckle under corruption) are outstanding. Devgan proves once again that he knows his job. Bipasha Basu has little to do and she does it well.
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