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Did the jaw-dropping creative inventiveness of Gangs of Wasseypur set the bar impossibly high for prolific Indian director-producer-screenwriter Anurag Kashyap? Ugly, his follow-up, will come as a major disappointment for fans of the marathon Godfather epic that set Cannes’ Directors Fortnight ablaze last year.
A grungy, dark police procedural set in motion by a little girl’s kidnapping, Ugly has few discernible auteur touches to set it apart from standard genre fare. Gone are the farcical, hyperbolic violence and the larger-than-life, tongue-in-cheek gangsters who modeled themselves on the movies. Gone is the wacky humor. Here the pettiness, egotism and corruption of modern Mumbai rule and the characters are all cheap and small—even the kidnapping victim is annoying. There may be a method here but if so, the result is very dark and downbeat for general audiences. The film’s Cannes outing and Kashyap’s cult standing could give it a little shelf life at festivals before it heads into genre venues.
The cast of characters is presented haphazardly. Shalini (Tejaswini Kolhapure) is a desperate, middle-class housewife kept at home as a semi-prisoner by her macho police-chief husband Bose (Ronit Roy). She’s about to blow her brains out with his gun when a knock on the door stops her. It’s her daughter Kali (Anishika Shrivastava), whining for her to call her estranged father. This is Rahul (Rahul Bhatt), a down-and-out actor still waiting for his big break, who comes to take her for a drive. He’s so distracted with phone calls he barely looks at her, and then he ominously leaves her alone in the car while he goes to talk business with his friend and casting director Chaitanya (Vineet Kumar Singh). Within minutes the girl is missing.
Rahul becomes the hero by default as he searches for the girl, first through the police, then following the kidnappers’ ransom messages. What little sympathy he inspires in the audience comes from his terrifying interview with local police captain Jadhav (played with gusto by the fine comic actor Girish Kulkarni). Instead of launching a manhunt for the girl, the captain absurdly chats about cell phones and computers while the distraught Rahul chafes and Chaitanya attempts to cajole him into action. All at once, Jadhav realizes the missing girl is the stepdaughter of police honcho Bose, and his attitude switches to FBI pro. At this point the stone-faced Bose, who hates his wife’s ex, orders him to accuse Rahul of the kidnapping and be beaten senseless.
The rest of the film is a battle of wits between Bose and Rahul to find the girl while tripping up the other. Rahul and Chaitanya are monotonously arrested and rearrested. Police violence is graphic and frightening. They use the “latest” gadgets in their investigation—computers, cell phones and GPS—like they were major novelties on CSI: Miami, which makes it seem the film is aimed mainly at local audiences. There is, however, a continuous sense of vitality and movement in the film, whose action scenes are foot chases filmed from a distance.
Kashyap’s nasty point is that, between violence, greed and corruption, just about no one is innocent in the end. Certainly all the characters are selfish beyond belief. This existential cynicism hits home in the horrific crime revealed in the last shot, but by that time, the emotions feel light-years away.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 17, 2013.
DAR Motion Pictures presents a Phantom Films production
Cast: Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhatt, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Anshika Shrivastava, Vineet Kumar Singh, Girish Kulkarni, Surveen Chawla, Siddhant Kapoor
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Screenwriter: Anurag Kashyap
Producers: Madhu Mantena, Vikas Bahl, Vikramaditya Motwane, Arun Rangachari, Vivek Rangachari
Co-producers: Vivek Agrawal, Shahnaab Alam
Director of photography: Nikos Andritsakis
Production designer: Mayur Sharma
Costumes: Divya Gambhir, Nidhi Gambhir
Editor: Aarti Bajaj
Music: Brian McOmber, G V Prakash Kumar
Sales Agent: DAR Motion Pictures, Mumbai
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