Two days ago, my mailbox had a package in it. I smiled like an idiot for the rest of the day: Aakrosh and Masoom had arrived!
Aakrosh is a legal drama set in a tiny village somewhere in rural India. A young and Shah-froed Naseeruddin Shah plays the idealistic pup of a lawyer, Bhaskar Kulkarni, all bright eyes and bushy tail and ready to fight for justice, yes, well, maybe. Amrish Puri, whom Western audiences will remember as the cult leader bellowing "KALI-MAAAAAA!" in that punk-ass Orientalist gob, plays his mentor and father figure, Dosani. Om Puri, who would have the most awesome cameo in Gandhi two years later, is Lahanya, the downtrodden Untouchable accused of murdering his wife. The movie plays on the ambiguity of whether Lahanya actually killed his wife. Meanwhile, we watch Shah-fro huff as he bicycles up and down mountains in his quest for the Truth, while Amrish Puri plays bridge with Brahmin cronies.
The ending is fabulous, in that it's sudden, unexpected and leaves you thinking. And just when you thought you had the movie all figured out - honor killings, the blight of the caste system - the real ambiguity dawns on you. I won't spoil it for you, dear readers, but let's just say, our squirrelly lawyer-hero seems seriously misguided. Oh, Bhaskar, you just can't handle the truth!
The film is very nicely directed, if you can look past the ancient AV quality. It's directed a bit like a horror film: very quiet, very tense, with lots of strange glances from random extras. The actors play their roles with a real subtlety and depth; you're never quite sure what to think, and what to think they think. Naseer's Bhaskar, for example, largely begins as the stereotypical Idealistic Young Lawyer that we've all seen in John Grisham dramas... but what makes him also fascinating is the slight twinge of paranoia they give him, the overall ignorance, the brief flashes of cowardice (he's a bit of a lump when they knife him, oh you silly Bhaskar) which contrast so sharply with the (doomed!) courage.
Om Puri, who has maybe three lines in the whole film (the last one being a fabulous roar) lets his face, and particularly eyes, do the talking. If you've ever seen Om Puri in anything else, he's in top form here. Lots of moments that make you go, "What? What is it, Om?! Say something! Oh my God, I can't handle the tension anymore!!" Also, the tiny vest... kinda sexy.
Amrish Puri has a flatter role, as ambiguous as the others but without too much room for sympathy from the audience. We never quite learn how dirty his hands were, nor do we really care. He is also less sexy in this than he was in Tridev (what? I liked the mullet).