Maybe it’s too early here to mention Kirti Kulhari’s indomitable brilliance in this grossly mis-reviewed film. But then, considering she has given what is arguably the most outstanding performance by a female protagonist since Tabu in Chandni Bar and has even gone further than Tabu in some sequences, this is as good a time as any to bring up her climactic court scene where she tells the spellbound judge (he wears the same expression that I did) how her life changed one day when she took the wrong turn and ended up watching the ravages caused by the Congress regime at Turkman Gate.
When Kirti speaks of serendipity her character Indu (I will ignore the cheap thrills of ambiguity afforded by her full name) doesn’t know what that words means. It is that innocence regarding her destiny but her determination to do the right thing in life is what makes Kirti so memorable as Indu Sarkar, a woman, a wife , a rebel and an underground activist who does what she does because… well someone has to stand up and speak against injustice during the time of political gagging so massive India became Indira.
That Indu stammers serves as befitting metaphor for a nation gone dumb with servility.
Happily Bhandarkar who has so far made a career out of exposing the peccadilloes of the glamorous elite, moves into political territory with reasonable confidence. The way he builds up the dread and sometimes unintended humour of the Emergency is remarkable. The film’s politics, though at times simplistic and half-baked, and in spite of Neil Nitin Mukesh’s atrocious hamming as a Sanjay Gandhi doppelganger, works very well for the protagonist’s journey from the dutiful housewife to the beautiful rebel without a pause.
Kirti lives every moment of Indu’s journey. She breathes life even into potentially dead scenes like the one where Indu must tell her husband that it is her home as well, not his home. For my money Kirti is the actress of the post-Madhuri Dixit generation. We desperately need to see her in more such epoch-defining parts.
Most of the way Bhandarkar retains a tight hold over the proceedings. He goes easy on the periodicity using Lata Mangeshkar songs like ‘Jhooth bole kauva kaate’, ‘Yeh samaa saama hai yeh pyar ka’ and ‘Jaa re jaa ho harjayee’ to define the time-line. That apart the tell-tale Dalda dabba on Indu’s kitchen shelf does the rest.
The film is shot by Japanese cinematographer Keiko Nakahara (who has shot Mary Kom before) in sharp sepia tones that suggest both nostalgia and decadence. The sound design is sharp except for a ridiculous chase sequence involving actor
Pravin Dabbas in the second-half where the R D Burmanish background score jars.
What stays with you are Kriti’s melancholic eyes taking in all the barbarism of a regime that lost control over its better judgement. Tota Roy Choudhury is also very effective as her husband except when he must act the MCP husband just because the script demands it.The film is dotted with memorable cameos by Sheeba Chadha, Ankur Vikal, Manav Vij (as a Sikh cop with a conscience) and many others. And yes there is Supriya Vinod playing a certain legendary Gandhi. She appears in just two shots and has little to do in the film except remind us of whom she is supposed to be.
But really, who cares! I couldn’t take my eyes of Kriti. Yes she is THAT good. Indu Sarkar is not to be missed for Kirti’s superlative performance. And also because it serves as ravishing reminder of the mistakes from the past that threaten to impinge on the present.