Sunday, May 27, 2012

lanka: good ideas don't go all the way

Lanka opens with a young doctor (Tia Bajpai) who, after treating a wife beaten up by her husband, goes berserk and treats the husband to a mixture of rants and punches. Evidently, she has done this before and is now forced to take a leave of absence to cool off. It's a very heavy-handed sequence delivered with camera setups, staging and dialogue that make you wince. These are the awkward trappings that often mar the product of low-budget films with good ideas and a crew with barely functional chops and not enough inspiration. Back at her house, this young doctor looks out at the city and, with a very stilted waxing inner voiceover starts the familiar journey into a flashback as she pens the story that forms the core of this film. You then see the first glimpse of Manoj Bajpayee, the villain of the piece and the reason you are crossing your fingers for this film.

Bajpayee's character Jaswant Sisodiya is the big powerful baddie in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh. Our heroine Anju is here because her father is the Chief Medical Officer. Unfortunately Anju is also Sisodiya's keep and the family cannot escape thanks to constant guard by Sisodiya's men. All this sets the stage for a saviour -- our hero, chhoTe (Arjan Bajwa). Sisodiya dotes on chhoTe, because he is in debt to chhoTe's father, who cared for him and even went to fatal blows for him. chhoTe also happens to be rather hot-headed and this helps us with the obligatory fight sequences.

The fight sequences are not the only familiar element from mainstream cinema that you get. There's also the item song and the song to adorn the burgeoning of love (the lovely shiit lahar). Mercifully, except for the item song nobody else indulges in on-screen lip synching.

It's a pity then that Bajpayee still does not get enough of his due from the script. We all know how this is going to end and we are just waiting for things to unfold before the flashback ends. Yet director Maqbool Khan does not take advantage of the film's running time to explore our primary characters, and Sisodiya in particular. We always tend to see Sisodiya in the context of other players. It is to Bajpayee's credit, however, that even in such scenes where his character is likely to be lost in broad strokes, we get hints that there's more to Sisodiya than the clichés would have you believe. We can see that he cares for chhoTe; we never see him behave like a violent thug exercising his power and yet his love for Anju has taken ugly proportions. It's an unhealthy possessiveness. The impassioned retort near the end of the film gives us a chance to see what makes Sisodiya tick, but unfortunately it's two hours too late. You only have to look at Ronit Roy in Udaan for an example of how to do such a "bad" character right. Someone like Vikramaditya Motwane is what Bajpayee needs and not the slumming in Inteqam, the exploitative mess of Jaago, the regressive drama of Swami or the futility of an enterprise like this.

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