Saturday 10 March 2007

Aakrosh (1980)

To inaugurate this illustrious project, we choose Aakrosh (1980). Why Aakrosh? Because we at the PPCC are just smitten with the New Wave Indian movie scene at the moment - Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri in particular - and why pretend not to be?

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.

This is the Shah-fro. ALL HAIL SHAH-FRO.

The Strangely Attractive Om Puri doing what he does best: sucking you in with his eyes!

Amrish Puri thinks you're all fools. He also plays the baritone Dosani.

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 only proper 'Bollywood number', skillfuly juxtaposed against the generally depressing plotline.

The context of the film was the so-called New Wave, or Parallel, Cinema of the 1980s in India. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri featured prominently in this stuff, and it was known to break the usual Bollywood mould by dealing with more serious, controversial subjects. It was arthouse, it was intelligentsia, yeah, baby, yeah!


He drinks milk and listens to sad music on the radio. I liked this scene.

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).

The guy who played the judge looked remarkably like Amartya Sen.


Sanket Vyas said...

This was one of the first Hindi movies I saw at the tender age of 12 when it first came out on VHS. I was stunned (especially at the ending) and plan to rewatch it soon as I will probably appreciate it more now.

*When they first started renting VHS at the Indian store in Dallas where we lived - they charged $11 for a 2 day rental! And my parents and other first generation Indians were so desperate for their Bollywood fix that they happily paid it!

Anonymous said...

I LOVED your review but have never seen this film and have been looking for it forever. Any idea where I can find it on VHS or DVD?



a ppcc representative said...

Thanks, Tawnya. Your best bet is, as always, Nehaflix:

yves said...

I have just watched Aakrosh, and like you, have been favourably impressed!
Did you know that gal whom you say represents the only "Bollywood" moment in the film is Reema, who played in numerous Bwood blockbusters later on? Aakrosh was her first movie.
Also you're right about the judge looking very much like Amartya Sen. But you don't say who he is really: do you know?
BTW, what meaning do you attribute to that scene of their encounter on the beach? I found it suggestive, but I can't not quite integrate it in my understanding of the movie...yet.

Ava said...

The girl in the lavanya dance looks like Reema Lagoo.

I saw it when it came out too, and was stunned at the end. My boss said it was too dramatic. But I didnt agree.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why they gave cinema like this titles like New Wave and whatnot. We watched this a few months ago and were left stunned, but believing.
When Bhaskar cringed in fear, we understood - I'd probably have dropped dead, with dignity, I hope.
Reema Lagoo in that lavani number, what a surprise.
Om Puri and those angry eyes, tending to goitre - have seen them in so many films, I've lost count, but I see he used them this way from the start. I file them in my memory beside Sunny Deol's expostulations in Damini and Gadar - Ek Prem Katha and
Ajay Devgn's morose-fierce expression and Akshay Khanna's smirk.
Nasoor and Ardh Satya still remain on our must-view list.