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Archive for June, 2015

Aakrosh (India, 2010)

My rating: +2 (Loved it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3 but only just
Director: Priyadarshan
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu, Reema Sen, Paresh Rawal
Plot: An investigation of the disappearance of three students takes place in a small and very uncooperative Indian village. The film handles the subject of honour killings and caste issues.

About the film

Aakrosh is an unusual mix of things. On the one hand, it’s a film with a very strong social conscience. On the other it’s also a commercial thriller with a few very spectacular (and very unrealistic) chase scenes. It has a lot of violence too and somehow manages to be fairly naturalistic and yet still make a bit of a spectacle out of all the fighting. And since it’s a Bollywood film, it also has dancing, though not a lot of it.

To me, first and foremost it’s a very beautiful movie. The cinematography and editing made a huge impression on me. It’s a very mobile camera with a good mix of some very wide and spectacular shots of large groups of people, as well as many naturalistic shots that get close to the actors. To me the way it was shot and put together, really is a thing of great beauty.
But its beauty aside, it has much to recommend it storywise as well. In India, even in this day and age, you can still get killed because you fall in love with a person with a different social standing to yourself. This is the true subject matter of the film, though all this is packed into the formula of a thriller. Even if the social theme doesn’t interest you, it’s still perfectly possible to enjoy the film simply as a good thriller. It has many good twists and turns, but perhaps the best bit for me was the ending. Maybe not the most realistic of endings, but I really liked it and totally didn’t see it coming!

This is only the second of Priyadarshan’s films I’ve watched and apparently quite an unusual one for him (it seems that usually he makes purely commercial films without a social message). But something that strikes me is that he seems very good at observing people. There’s something very real about how he portrays human behaviour and the style of camerawork in this film really helps in that.
Aakrosh portrays the different levels of Indian society with a lot of subtlety. Different castes are one thing, but there are also the differences between big cities and villages and many other power disbalances such as age or occupation. The way the police work, the way corruption works, the way the villagers stay silent despite it all – all of that is portrayed very beautifully and believably.
And then there is gender. The events of the film happen very much in the world of men. Small villages in India seem to be places where women are not seen much outside the home and they rarely speak when in male company. Seeing as the two main characters (the investigators of the case of the disappearance of the 3 students) are male, they don’t interact much with women.
It was quite a surprise to me that the film passes the Bechdel test – this is solely thanks to the interactions that happen later on in the movie between Geeta (a battered wife in an upper caste home, played by Bipasha Basu) and Jamunia (a lower caste woman who loses her family through the events of the film, portrayed by Reema Sen). The reality is that for these women a lot of their lives do revolve around the men in their lives, so men are much of what they talk about. But I think arguably when Geeta inquires about Jamunia’s situation after she loses her husband and son, she is not really inquiring about the men in Jamunia’s life but Jamunia herself. The relationship and interactions between them turn out to be extremely important for how the plot develops in the end – this was something I had not expected, I was expecting it all to play out between the men.

The cast has some bigger Bollywood names (Ajay Devgan, Akshaye Khanna and Bipasha Basu), but they are amongst the subtler Bollywood stars, so Aakrosh has a slightly more realistic feel without as much of the bigger than life acting that Bollywood usually serves up. All three of them turn in good performances.
Ajay Devgan is Pratap, an investigator from the village assigned to help out in the CBI’s (Central Bureau of Investigation) work. He is a lower caste man, who has tried to get an education and make a decent life for himself despite having the cards stacked against him and having some truly haunting stories in his past. He genuinely wants to help and has a personal motive since Dinu, the missing boy from the village, is low caste like Pratap himself (the other two students are better connected boys from the city, who came to the village with Dinu). But he is also quite sceptical about whether the investigation will come up with anything since he knows first hand how the village works and how difficult it will be to get information from anyone. As the investigation develops, some of the things that happen are very, very personal to Pratap.
Ajay Devgan is well cast here – the tough, suffering, low caste man is something I’ve seen him do very well before. He’s a good balance of action hero and real man off the street – perfect for this kind of film.
Akshaye Khanna (who I am a big fan of and who is partly responsible for me seeing this :D) is Siddhant. Siddhant is a Brahmin (the highest caste) from Delhi with a rather privileged life – a soft-spoken young man with a respectable job whose mum is arranging his marriage while he investigates the case.
Siddhant is the designated investigator from the CBI with a good track record of handling difficult cases. Still, he has no idea about village politics and greatly underestimates the difficulties of investigating a case like this. Pratap has his doubts about Siddhant, but it soon becomes clear Siddhant is very determined. They don’t always see eye to eye (especially when things get personal for Pratap), but they make a good team. Siddhant blunders through initially, but slowly gets better at playing the village politics game.
Again, this is really good casting – Akshaye Khanna is believable both as a soft-spoken clerk and as a man who has just enough temper and machoismo that he could end up in a fist fight.

Overall, I highly recommend the film to anybody who likes a good thriller or a beautifully shot film on a serious topic.

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