It is a really heart-warming coincidence that in the week when Ketan Mehta has released his animation version of the Ramayan, Priyadarshan has carved out space for a slice from Ketan's Mirch Masala in his tense taut but frequently flawed film on honour killing Aakrosh.
The lengthy film borrows its stylish format from Alan Pakula's Mississippi Burning. Two investigative officers (Ajay Devgn and Akshaye Khanna) not quite in love with one another's ranks or methods of work come together in a backwater conservative village to solve a ghastly social crime.
Cinema about ghastly social crimes often need resort to gruesome violence. Aakrosh is a sanguinary saga soaked in the vinegar of violence. The intelligently-written script weaves a plethora of dark ugly sinister characters into a slight love story between one of the investigators and the wife of the debauched cop (Paresh Rawal, in top form).
Bipasha Basu as the abused nervous wife goes uncharacteristically into a shell. It's good to see the whole cast of players, glamorous stars and hardcore theatre actors pitch their collective might into a unified range of vision to make Priyadarshan's village of violence look utterly credible.
The dusty corroded village is pregnant with pauses. This is Anusha Rizvi's Peepli…but nothing live about it. The streets are narrow and dusty .The quirks and eccentricities of Peepli Live are left behind as the population smoulders in the incendiary fires of injustice. The people stare into the camera with gaunt eyes with unshed tears hiding fear, deprivation, brutality and atrocity. The camera moves nervously and speedily over the tired faces stopping neither to savour the torment nor dwell on the enormity of the savagery.
It takes a cast as powerful as the one the prolific Priyadarshan has assembled in Aakrosh to shed trembling light on the caste system that still prevails in many areas of our country.
Honour killing, as it is called, was lately shown with unalloyed brutality in Dibakar Bannerjee's Love Sex Aur Dokha where the girl from the high caste and the lower-caste boy were battered to death by the girl's father.
Now THAT, Baby, was honour killing! In Aakrosh the 'honour killing' is half-hearted. And that tragically remains the ongoing mood. The two heroes often seem ineffectual when faced with a battery of human battering rams. Though both the leads are credible and watch able (particularly Devgn) there isn't enough payback for the crime-lords of this village, apparently in Bihar (the accent at times suggest that state of affairs).
Aakrosh falls between the two stools of a social message a riveting eyeball-grabbing. Finally the film succeeds in bringing out the dark side of our tradition-bound society where men still kill pride fully for archaic reasons. Shockingly there's no one to stop these marauders of a lost cause. And that's why our two heroes needed to be shown as riding the stenched-filled system, not grappling with it.
On the plus side, Aakrosh has some heart stopping moments of suspense and action. Devgn negotiates the emotional and physical bumps in the plot with a casual ease. A word of praise for the art direction. Priyadarshan's films always abide by the colour schemes and moods of his themes. In Aakrosh the toasted browns and the glistening greys are just correct for the mood.
The film conveys a borderline brilliance that just stops short of becoming the prevalent mood of the proceedings. There is ample anarchy and injustice. There's a seething anger too underlining the exterior excesses. But there isn't enough payback.