A while ago, while chatting him up for my show on TV, I had queried Sudhir Mishra as to why Hindi film industry fails to produce qualitative movies, unlike the 1960s and 1970s, which have tremendous recall value even in the present day? I markedly remember, Mishra didn't blink an eyelid while answering this one: "That's because most producers are not literate enough to understand scripts that could elevate the standards of Hindi films. Film-making for them is limited to the weekend business these days." The proclamation stayed with me!
When you saunter into a cineplex to watch a Sudhir Mishra film, it's given that this maverick film-maker will serve you non-formulaic stuff. As a viewer, I liked some of his efforts (Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi), but a few didn't live up to my expectations. His new film, Yeh Saali Zindagi, has already generated the buzz for a variety of reasons. It's 'controversial' or 'provocative' title being the key one.
Before I proceed further, let me tell you that the title is of immense significance to the film. Sure, it may sound offensive [the Censor Board chief too raised a hue and cry, asking Mishra to change the title of the film], but why does a commonly used word ['saali'] create an uproar? Actually, I am quite amused at the brouhaha. In our society, we refer to the sister-in-law as saali, don't we? Besides, almost three decades ago, the Dilip Kumar starrer Sagina had a very popular song [which we recall to this day], 'Saala Main To Sahab Ban Gaya' and more recently, 'Pappu Can't Dance Saala' from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na took the nation by storm. Even recently, the word 'Saali' was used in a song from No One Killed Jessica, 'Aali Re Saali Re'. Also, when you view Yeh Saali Zindagi, you realize that 'saali' has been used as a symbol to the vagaries of life and not as a derogatory, abusive, swear word. It's not slang, but a flare-up of expression.
It requires a fearless and courageous film-maker [Prakash Jha] to back an audacious film-maker [Sudhir Mishra] to create a motion picture that defies stereotype. The risk involved is colossal, but the satisfaction of having created a product that has tremendous shelf life is incalculable. Yeh Saali Zindagi is a striking case in point.
In an industry where mediocre scripts rule and funds are readily available for projects only if 'saleable stars' are ready to sign on the dotted line, in an industry where tried and tested formula and shortcuts have become a habit, Yeh Saali Zindagi comes as a courageous attempt. It may not be this fiercely independent film-maker's most accomplished effort, but it has the guts and valor to narrate an innovative story with a brand new approach.
At the same time, I'd like to add that the content is quirky, the relationships depicted in the film are complex and twisted and the format of narrating the story [including the edit pattern] is poles apart from what one is used to watching in the customary Hindi film. Even the spoken language is harsh, crude, with lots of expletives and swear words thrown in. But that's the beauty of this film. It walks a different path.
Final word? Sudhir Mishra is back in form. You need a strong belly to stomach this one!
Arun [Irrfan Khan] has to save Priti [Chitrangda Singh], the woman he loves, but for that he first has to save the man Priti loves, Shyam [Vipul Gupta], the future son-in-law of a powerful Minister. Meanwhile, time is running out for Kuldeep [Arunoday Singh], the young gangster who is on his last job as his wife [Aditi Rao Hydari] is threatening to walk out on him and he begins to suspect she is leaving him to go into the arms of another man.
The job has gone haywire for it is still unknown to Kuldeep that the Minister's daughter's engagement with Shyam is off and now she doesn't care whether Shyam lives or dies and more importantly, neither does the Minister who Kuldeep hoped would pay the ransom. Priti finds herself inextricably caught in this mess and Arun has to save her life. But for that he has to risk everything and put his own life at stake, he wonders why he should do it at all, if she still loves another man. He's torn, but love knows no reason.
Sudhir Mishra has worked on a taut screenplay to ensure that at no point in those 2 hours monotony sets in. Multiple stories are running concurrently, but unlike other films, these stories are linked to each other till the very conclusion. There're twists aplenty and the punches that come at regular intervals startle you since they don't follow the set blueprint that most Hindi films follow.
But the film is not without blemishes. One, Mishra should've ensured that the narrative unfolded in the most simplistic manner, for there are sequences which leave behind queries and come across as difficult to comprehend. Since the film has too many characters and too many incidents taking place in the course of a few days, the treatment had to be simplistic, without confusing the viewer, who's seated on the fence and is overseeing the proceedings. Also, the inconsistent pacing is a deterrent. Besides, you find sequences that just add to the run time and have not much significance to the main plot whatsoever.
The climax would meet with mixed reactions, especially the 'bullet' sequence. It would've worked big time in a Manmohan Desai film, but in view of the fact that Sudhir Mishra walks the realistic path, it's a bit difficult to absorb. Nonetheless, it's a brilliant way to end the film!
The soundtrack of Yeh Saali Zindagi bears a different sound, especially the title track. Sachin Krishn's cinematography is perfect [the locales of Delhi and outskirts are well captured], but the only problem is that most of the shots have been dimly lit up, which may not be a problem at city plexes having good projection systems, but would pose a problem at smaller towns for sure. Something that even Vishal Bhardwaj had agreed with my viewpoint during Kaminey. Dialogue [Mishra and Manu Rishi], like I pointed out earlier, are straight out of everyday conversation. The hoi polloi in particular would relish the cuss words, which are generously interwoven in the narrative. Background score is electrifying and the editing [most parts] makes the goings-on impactful.
Yeh Saali Zindagi is embellished with gifted actors and as always, it's Irrfan who leads the pack with a superb performance, holding your attention from the very start. He's aggressive when required [with Saurabh Shukla], but docile when handling matters of heart [Chitrangda Singh]. Chitrangda looks stunning and matches up to Irrfan in most parts. In fact, her screen persona is so strong you can't take your eyes off this lady.
Arunoday continues to climb the ladder with every film. The youngster excels in his part and stands out not only because of his towering personality, but also because he's a complete natural. Aditi Rao Hydari is very good. Saurabh Shukla is an accomplished actor and he proves it yet again. Sushant Singh is first-rate, Vipin Sharma is utmost convincing, Yashpal Sharma is remarkable and Prashant Narayanan is superb, as always. Vipul Gupta is another talent to watch out for.
On the whole, Yeh Saali Zindagi is a striking example of new age cinema. A daring film with a brand new approach, it's impulsive and engaging with skilful direction and power-packed performances as its strong points. This is one more solid attempt that takes the graph of Hindi cinema to a greater level.
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Arunoday Singh, Chitrangada Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari