Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey, Ashutosh Rana
Abhishek Chaubey manages to rip us off our plush theatre seats and plunge us into the valley of Chambal, not only with his excellent cinematography, but also with his keen sense of humanity.
Ever thought what it would be like to court death? To live in terror, some meted by you, some on you…. The constant struggle to keep ahead in the chase, the constant effort to turn a blind eye to the massacre you have left behind? Would you manage to surmount the next cliff, or will you succumb to guilt? You never know, till you are in it….
From the very first shot, we are pushed into the valleys amongst the dacoits, led by Man Singh (Manoj Bajpayee), Vakil (Ranvir Shorey) and Lakhna (Sushant Singh Rajput) – they do whatever they can to plunder and survive. Often while dealing with death and brutality, this group of bandits are faced with their own conscience. While they are gritty, grizzly and gross, they are also God-fearing and ghost fearing. Their hollow eyes, often show them things that their mind is refusing to accept, and vice versa.
Like every band of dacoits they are being chased by the cops, but sometime long ago the demarcation between the good and the bad has become so blurred, that you as an audience are left to make your own choices.
While Chaubey sets the cinematography to churn the dust all over Chambal, he chooses Bundelkhandi as a language, putting barriers between the audience and his story in the name of realism. He manages to give the film an authentic tone, but the subtitles are a distraction you don’t want in a film you want to embrace as your own national.
Chaubey has excellent support in the form of his mentor, Vishal Bharadwaj who gives the music for the film. How Bharadwaj does it, only he knows but he sure can make melodies amidst gunshots.
What works for the film are its actors, Bhumi Pednekar as Indumati, fills your pores with the grime of Madhya Pradesh, she is gritty like the men, and yet, acutely feminine in a rustic way. She manages her character as beautifully as the boys manage their parts as dacoits. While you cannot expect anything less from actors like Manoj Bajpayee and Ashutosh Rana, you will still find yourself surprised by the intensity of their portrayals. Yet, it is Ranvir Shorey who plays Vakil that stays with you. If you see him in a film like Death In The Gunj, and then you look at him playing a dacoit, you realise what a fine actor we have failed to give his dues. He is superlative in each scenes, never once does his diction slip. Of course, everyone wants to know how convincing Sushant Singh Rajput is in the film, he certainly is excellent. Despite being surrounded by such gargantuan actors, he manages to hold his own.
Given Sushant and Bhumi are the novices in the Chambal scenario, it is their determination to fit in which is worthy of an applause.
What works adversely for the film is its pace, and refusal to simplify the subject, the incessant use of imagery and metaphoric phrasing dialogues in the native tongue, is difficult to decipher and takes away from the focus of the viewer. But like every one of his film, Chaubey sticks to his vision unapologetically, and makes the audience appreciate his work, on his own terms.