Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aakrosh Review

If you are looking for a film with some of the most interesting action scenes that you will see for a long time, look no further. Aakrosh is a film where our protagonist (at least, one of them) accomplishes such superhuman feats as surfing on the roof of a car, free-running across the roofs of the city in pursuit, and escaping from a sword-wielding bike gang by sliding under the low-lying boughs of a tree sideways on one the aforementioned bikes of his own. Further, it is a film about the evils of the caste system in India as they apply to a small town Jhanjhar.

As the story goes, there are evils occurring in Jhanjhar as caused by an evil police chief in the town, who just so happen to be involved with caste-based violence occurring in the lower-income sector of the village. The film concerns, as its main subject, the disappearance of three Delhi University students who came to Jhanjhan in celebration of Dussehra, Their disappearance is not investigated for over two months, and due to pressure by the students of the University, the government finally sends in some CBI investigators to find out just what happened. This is where Pratap Kumar and Siddhant Chaturvedi come in. Pratap comes from the Bihar region, and knows well how the small towns work, whilst Siddhant is a hard-hitting, no-nonsense officer who works by the book. They investigate the occurrences of the small town, and discover that the local police force is nothing more than a contingent of violent, caste-ist men who do nothing more than heartlessly establish their own authority. As the plot unfolds, it turns out that there is much more going on than just the disappearance of the university students.

The main subject of the film as the story comes to a conclusion, is a story of honour killing and inter-caste violence that is still occurring to this date in India. Priyadarshan makes this the obvious premise of the film by opening with the performance of the Rama Leela. At this performance, there are lower-caste individuals are being given water from casks, with the holders of the casks pouring into the drinker’s to avoid contact with them, as well as the quite literal newspaper snapshots referencing honour killing. From this outset, Priyadarshan continues to make a commentary on the caste system by reflecting the lack of touch between castes, and the concept of impurity. In the first interaction between the CBI agents and the policemen, a man in pure white lungis is pulled into the office and convicted of letting his goat eat someone’s roses. The man never says a word, but it instantly struck down with considerable force by one of the officers without giving him a moment to speak for himself.

When trying to talk to the lower caste villagers about the kidnappings, the CBI agents are unable to get any information because no one will cooperate with them for fear of being kidnapped themselves. In the town, Siddanth asks an old man in the huts of the village why it is that none of the disappearances are ever reported, to which he responds with “We are alive... because we are blind.” This is a declaration of the violence in the town, that any small evidence of uprising results in death, and that any opposition to the police force should not be voiced for fear of this fact. Further, when Siddanth and Pratap are going over the villager’s reactions to the kidnapping of a villager who was related to Dinu, one of the University students who disappeared, Pratap says that it is an ‘old fear’, that the villagers are fearful and will not report any events to the police because any sort of report usually ends in further violence for those of a lower caste.

Pratap’s history is an interesting feature in the concept of caste violence in Bihar region, as he tells of how his entire family was killed as a result of a comment by his father, a Dalit, to a Thankar, a man of a higher caste than the Dalit. This draws attention to the fact that Pratap has first-hand experience with caste violence, that he knows just how bad all the violence between castes can get.

Siddanth, the no-nonsense, by-the-book CBI agent, comes from a different world than that that composes the Bihar region. By his word, there shouldn’t be disparity between the castes, and he makes this clear in many scenes, but notably when he refers to the composition of a cricket team that the policemen are watching. He says that the team is composed of people from all different castes, and laments: “If only we could learn something from cricket.” I found this interesting because this seemed like Priyadarshan’s description of the big versus the small world of India. Siddanth was a man of the integrated world, where there is less violence based on caste, and believes in unity of the people. Despite this mindset from the integrated world, he doesn’t seem to understand that it’s just not how it works in the Bihar region, that he unfortunately does have to work within the caste system and accept that it is in place. Pratap tells him that yes, he may have considerable swell as an investigative agent of the CBI, but that he doesn’t know how the region works, that his prior knowledge will cause more trouble than harm because working authoritatively from his integrated viewpoint doesn’t work for Bihar and that he must work within the system that is of the region. Pratap says that “the law is different here than that of the other countries.” The law of the region is caste law, and because of this Siddanth’s investigative mechanisms will not work.

In this I saw Priyadarshan describing the mutability of the caste system over time and space. It is a preconceived notion that caste is a long-standing element of Indian society, but as Deepa Reddy’s article told us, caste, just like every other element of culture, is in a constant state of flux. This movie well describes it. The most interconnected regions of India, like Dehli, have a less stratified society, whilst regional caste violence still exists in the less connected regions. Many times in the film the police officers of Jhanjhar talk about how the CBI agents are not from the region and shouldn’t be meddling in local affairs because they come from a place that is not there, that doesn’t have the same rules. The caste system is obviously very much still in place in Jhanjhar though it may not be somewhere else, and the CBI officers need to take this into account. Priyadarshan was describing the evil that caste violence creates by narrowing in on this town’s issues, and showing that interpersonal violence based on your birth can very much be detrimental to the function of a society.

There are many religious references that are made within the film that reference the film’s story. When staying at their lodge, a firebomb is thrown into the CBI agents’ room, and a flaming trident is left outside as a warning to them that they should not continue meddling about in affairs. When they go to the police to report this, the chief officer asks Siddanth why he is ‘walking about with a trident in [his] hand like Shiva.” Shiva is a god of destruction, which foreshadows as well as declares that the CBI investigation is going to inevitably cause more destruction than it will good, which it does. Another example of allusion is a conversation between Siddanth and Pratap over the existence of God. Pratap does not believe in god, but Siddanth says that God has come their aide by making the water level recede through the local dam engineer’s refusal to open the floodgates, revealing the car that the four university students were driving when they disappeared.

The Rama Leela performance at the beginning of the movie is another religious description of the film’s features, that Pratap is like Ram, the perfect (badass) man who is capable of doing all the good that must be done, whilst Geeta is our Sita character, the unfortunate wife of the man who treats her cruelly and may or may not be purveying all the problems of Jahnjhar, not to mention that Geeta’s name is oddly close-sounding to Sita in the first place.

Priyadarshan shoots his scenes in an interestingly particular manner, making frequent use of through-shots, wherein there is a particular landscape feature between the camera and the actors in the scene. This creates an obstacle between the viewer and the subject at hand, that the scene is somewhat covered up, adding to the mysterious element of the film by putting a sort of shroud over the scene.

Another interesting feature of the film was that as a bollywood, there was actually very little dancing and/or singing going on. The full two-and-a-half hours, there are a handful of songs, only one of which is not directly a part of the film and describes Geeta and Ram’s (oops, sorry, I mean Pratap’s) love once upon a great age. Further, the dances are not nearly as elaborate as those of Mangal Pandey or Alaipayuthey. As someone who is a neophyte to the world of Bollywood, I’m not certain whether or not this a necessary feature of a Bollywood, but I certainly did miss the dancing, at some level. (I was almost tempted to watch some of Alaipayuthey on youtube)

One last feature that I found interesting was the Priyadarshan’s definition between the upper-caste and the lower-caste. For the most part, the obvious feature was the use of clothing. All the lower-caste were either wearing either pure white lungis or very little clothing at all, whilst those in the upper caste were wearing mostly suits and pants or uniforms. I saw an element of particular description here, as the upper-caste looked as though they were part of a system, whilst the lower-caste looked either totally pure in their lungis or well defined as individuals wearing clothing that was not the same as everyone else.

I found this film to be very enjoyable in its mystery-crime utility. The action scenes, in particular, are phenomenal. It would not be a difficult argument make that there are few films with such fluid and remarkable, not to mention realistic action scenes. There is one scene in particular, where Pratap chases a man across the rooftops of Jhanjhar, where you see some of the most phenomenal feature-traversing that can be had in film. There are several times in this scene where Pratap effortlessly hops between buildings and wallhops around cars. I’d recommend this movie to anyone in a heartbeat. I’m actually watching it a second time right now.

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