Once in while you tend to overlook the glaring aberrations in a story that is so well-intended that it makes you wonder: why didn’t someone make this film before?
Laal Rang takes us into bloodied badlands of Haryana where, we are told, there exists a thriving black market for blood banking. This idea, on paper itself, is novel intriguing and innovative enough to grab our attention.The storytelling spiced up with dollops of devilish irony, keeps us watching to the famished finish.
This is a story of incomplete souls trying to make sense of their ambitions in an environment prone to corruption and criminality. This is the world of Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia. But far less dark and moody, far more ebullient and mischievous.
Director Syed Ahmad Afzal didn’t tread the tried-and-tested path in his debut film Youngistan. He goes even more down the unconventional road with this one, and why not? When he has at his disposal actors who know the badlands so well they look like they lived on the wild side all their lives.
Randeep Hooda’s Shankar is a blood-bartering mafioso who worships Lord Shiva and money (not in any order). Thanks to Hooda’s performance Shankar is turned into an arresting amalgamation of avarice ambition and compassion. He covets more of everything including humanism and empathy. Wisely director Afzal doesn’t binge on the blood theme. Instead he concentrates on building a concernedly crafted judiciously grounded relationship between Hooda’s Shankar –the mentor– and his wide-eyed adulatory ambitious-in-his-own-right protégé Rajesh (Akshay Oberoi).
It’s eventually a guys thing. The two actors play off against one another with crackling gusto to bring to their individual and combined presence the kind of dark yet blithe camaraderie that made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid such a fabulous pair of guru-shishya friends.
While Oberoi imparts an endearing ingenue’s warmth to his besotted pupil’s role it is Hooda who holds the plot together. The wall of bravado built around his character comes crumbling down in unexpected bouts of sentimentality.
While using the theme of blood-banking to build a compromised spirit, the film also interjects some wry commentary on the way young ambitious small-town women subvert the concept love to suit their financial purposes.
Pia Bajpai as Oberoi’s pushy girlfriend is unable to impart the right amount of aggression to her part. In the absence of a creative stimulus her role remains under-developed ,as the Shankar-Rajesh equation takes centrestage.
Laal Rang is a riveting topical tale powered by a Haryanvi heft that is captured mainly through Hooda’s swaggering performance. There are moments when his brotherly affection for Oberoi seems so genuine it almost seems to exist beyond the conflicts portrayed in the plot.
Laal Rang rolls up a swinging slithering mass of livid emotions and throws it in our face. Though some of it misses its mark, this is undeniably a film worth a dekko.
Bloody good, I’d say.