Saturday, 17 March 2007

Gangaajal (2003)

Many an Indian film has dealt with the great bane of the subcontinent: corruption.

While some films have told a story of corruption through the lens of comedy (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro) , others have taken a more serious route (Ardh Satya), often to critical acclaim. Gangaajal is in the latter category, though we critics of the PPCC neither acclaim or condemn it.


Straight from our lair.


First, we must put our cards on the table: we at the PPCC crush on Ajay Devgan like whoa, and the only reason we agreed to watch this film was because we were promised lots of brooding Ajay Devgan shots. In this respect, the film delivered. Huzzah!

Second, we at the PPCC have stoically sat through many an ancient Hindi flick - some with questionable camera technology, some with questionable fashion, and some where the audio slipped off right during our favorite song! Seeing something slick and post-2000 was, we admit, a breath of fresh air, so we might be a bit more forgiving than usual.


Lush shots of rural India. Joy.


Gangaajal follows Subinspector Amit Kumar (Ajay Devgan), a stern-looking hunk who probably irons his underwear, as he is assigned to a district out in rural India where lawlessness reigns. Bringing his perky wife and their perky furniture in tow, Amit sets up shop with one goal in mind: clean out the crime and corruption of District Boondock! His task is made difficult when he sees that everyone and their mom has their hand in everyone else's pockets. It's all very confusing, but also fascinating, as all the shades of corruption (and morality!) are presented. We at the PPCC were particularly taken with the sub-subplot of the corrupt lower caste police officer who bought the job in an effort to move up in the world - he turned out to be a pretty nice guy.


Welcome to a land where the crime boss and chief of police buy and sell jail time. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 2.5 million rupees.


The morality becomes further entangled when some police officers under Amit take to his Upright and Bad-ass example with just a little too much zeal and end up pouring battery acid into criminals' eyes. This gives rise to a wave of horrific vigilantism throughout the district. So poor Amit has to juggle two problems: clear out the sticky web of organized crime and quell the tide of acid-wielding fanaticism.


Ajay and Captain Spectacular.


'Gangaajal' - literally, the holy waters from the river Ganges - refers to everyone's weapon of choice: car battery acid. Apparently, the film refers to a real life incident, and you'd think with such grim historical background, the movie would take care to present it in a sensitive, serious light. It tries to, but ultimately the director's choices undermine this seriousness; turning a gross violation of human rights into what looks like a madcap romp complete with green smokey liquid, field hockey bats, and video game sound effects (wah-pssshhh!).

Because of this semi-serious, semi-silly presentation, the viewer is left bewildered. The Aficionada's emotions were in turmoil: on one hand, giggling hysterically at the fight scenes, on the other hand, aghast at the degenerating situation. Add to that the fact that the plot was like sitting down to a Monopoly game already in its fifth hour, and you have a very uneven story.


Oh, Ajay.


Mob madness!


All that said, there were moments when everything came together and the movie became what it should be: turbulent, but beautiful. The shots of the town bridge at dawn and dusk were particularly effective, as were snatches of the music. There were even scenes when Ajay's Amit waxed philosophical about Society and Human Dignity. But then everything would just collapse again into a gory mess of B-movie clichés and inadvertent silliness.

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