Integrity: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

A Review of KAL (2005)
Director: Ruchi Narain
fiction

One look at the posters, and it is very easy to dismiss Ruchi Narain's directorial debut Kal as one of the endless cheesy youth-oriented potboilers being churned out by the Hindi film industry. Even worse, it’s easy to mistake it for Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Kwaishein Aisi, on which Narain was an assistant, especially because it also features Chitrangda Singh and Shiny Ahuja, who play two of the protagonists in Kal.

But, as the proverb says, never judge a book by its cover. The very beginning of Kal is unorthodox, to say the least: Bhavana (Chitrangda), the protagonist, is tearfully viewing a bunch of video-messages on her Mac laptop, in chronological order over the duration of a year. Through these, and the voice of the narrator Rohan, we come to know the sketchy details: Bhavana and Tarun (Shiny) were very much in love and planning to marry, and had a great time with their gang of friends Sangeeta, Teji, and Bhavana’s best friend Maya. Unfortunately, Tarun falls in love with Maya instead, and marries her – a decision which causes a rift in the group. Everyone drifts apart – Tarun, whose marriage to Maya was against her family wishes, finally gains acceptance with her business-magnate father and quickly moves up the corporate ladder. Teji also goes to work for Tarun, which Bhavana sees as disloyalty on his part and apathy towards her heartbreak. Sangeeta goes to the UK to study law, and Bhavana pursues her career as a photographer. A tearful video-apology from Maya does nothing to soothe her ruffled feathers, and consolations from Sangeeta don’t work either. Finally, Sangeeta announces that she is coming down from the UK to celebrate her wedding in Mumbai, and asks Bhavana to come down for her wedding.

At the wedding, Bhavana meets Rohan, a journalist and a friend of the groom Shekar. Rohan, who is struggling to recover from a failed relationship, feels instantly attracted to her. Bhavana is still smarting about her breakup with Tarun but is surprised when Sangeetha reveals she didn’t invite either him or Maya, and even more surprised to hear they’re getting a divorce. Sangeeta tries her level best to hook Bhavana and Rohan together, and succeeds. Bhavana slowly gets into the party mood and later is very excited to be dropped home by Rohan. Just as she gets intimate with Rohan, Bhavana is shocked to find a very drunk Tarun in her house.

An embarrassed Rohan leaves in a huff, and Bhavana grudgingly lets Tarun stay the night, as he is too drunk to move. The next day, she leaves him still sleeping to go to work, and there she sees the news that Maya has died the previous evening. Horrified, Bhavana calls home only to find out that Tarun is missing.

From here the film accelerates to a mind-dizzying pace as allegations fly fast and furious between Maya’s family, the Jalans, and Tarun’s family, the Haksars, including Tarun’s socialite sister Ira (Sarika), and aided by the multitude pf presspersons hounding the prosperous families. Rajesh, Maya’s slimy brother, tries his level best to make sure her father, a heart patient, does not know of his daughter’s death, which had occurred the same night Tarun had been at Bhavana’s house. Bhavana, in a state of panic and still angry over her failed affair with Tarun, tells the police that Tarun was at her place that night, which instantly makes Tarun a prime suspect. Bhavana’s father Dayal (Boman Irani), who also works for Jalan, promptly returns from a holiday in Cochin on hearing the news. Tarun surrenders, get beaten up in jail, and slips into a short coma. Maya’s adoring younger brother Anuj comes down from the US, and the press goes berserk. There is now a rift between the Jalans, the Haksars, and Dayals – three prosperous families that were once friends. And in the midst of it all is the journalist Rohan, who is madly in love with Bhavana and yet trying to piece the puzzle together.

The film cuts speedily back and forth between the lives of Bhavana and Sangeeta, Maya’s closest friends, Anuj, Tarun and the drug-addled Teji (who, as it later turns out, was madly in love with Maya.) On the evening of Maya’s birthday, after Anuj throws a posthumous birthday party to honour her, Bhavana finds out that Tarun had not gone beyond the cigarette shop outside her flat; he had been too drunk to do so, and therefore definitely could not have killed Maya. Worse things happen: Teji goes insane, worrying Bhavana and Sangeeta further, while Tarun is still in a coma. Finally, Teji blurts out a shocking revelation: Tarun and Maya had procured a spy-cam developed by him to capture her brother Rajesh in the act of taking bribes. However, Rajesh found out, and Tarun turned against Maya for fear of his career. Thus Maya, who had helped her husband expose her own family, had suddenly found herself alone in a world of corruption she couldn’t live in, and was last heard threatening to kill herself.

Shortly after this, Teji is found dead of a drug overdose, apparently unable to handle any more. To make things worse, the Jalans set up an IT raid at the Dayals’ home and ask them to evacuate, the press is constantly hounding Bhavana and her family, Dayal resigns from Jalan’s company only to steal a file from his office, and Ira cannot seem to make up her mind on which side to take. In the midst of all this, Sangeeta calls Bhavana in tears and tells her that some of her belongings that had remained behind in London have just arrived. Among them is a tape made by Maya.

In the tape, Maya reveals that she was unable to take any more after Tarun had abandoned their moralistic pursuit of exposing her brother sided with him instead. As Bhavana and Sangeeta watch in shock and grief, she declares that she will kill herself. And the mystery is finally solved, but not without leaving Bhavana, Sangeetha and Anuj disgusted at the level of corruption right under their very noses. As a final act of revenge, Bhavana talks to the now-recovered Tarun using a spy-cam, and gets him to spill the beans on the actual events leading to Maya’s suicide, and the corruption that preceded it. She gives it to Rohan and helps Rohan prepare his TV expose on the Jalans. Thus, she repays Maya for saving her from a marriage to Tarun.

To her credit, the director has also taken into consideration the fact that all the characters are not black-and-white; there are shades of grey in just about everyone, and it is not easy to label them as good and evil. Also she makes a point that while we may think someone is doing something wrong, they are convinced that they are doing it right – which is the very foundation of the differences in ideology.

The film has its comic moments, which are but few. One is the scene where Anuj, Sangeeta and Bhavana go to a psychic to help them contact Maya in the netherworld – a hilarious reminder of the human tendency to take refuge in superstitions in times of desperation. And Narain is careful not to fall prey to aggravating clichés: song-and-dance sequences in Switzerland (given that the protagonists are so wealthy), and a comatose Tarun suddenly waking up and unable to remember who he is and how he got there. But it does have its groan-inducing moments, notably during the scene when a man stares at a TV in a shop window while it is airing the expose, and wipes a tear from his eye.

The cast is pretty well suited for the film, though Chitrangda seems too beautiful to be convincing as the girl-next-door that she was meant to be. Boman Irani, as usual, is the life of the film. Sarika is every inch the media-savvy socialite, and her return to the screen will be much looked forward to. Some of the costumes seem too glamourised and Bollywood-inspired but given the characters' high social status, it doesn’t seem very out of place.

For a debutante director, Ruchi Narain has done a brilliant job. Although quite long at two and a half hours, the narrative cuts so quickly between events and characters that before you can even digest a new twist, another one slaps right across your face. It does get a bit tiresome, but the confusion is genuine in the sense that it parallels the infinitely murky events in the story itself, which finally culminates in the explosive revelation that, sometimes, the only way to do something is to do it wrong.

1 comment:

Norty said...

hey, sorry, no connection to Edward Norton.. though I admit I LOVE most of the movies he's been in... that may be an interesting direction to take in the future... ;)