In a scene in Abhishek Chaubey's Sonchiriya, a cop points at a bandit movie poster stuck on a wall and asks a man if he watched that flick and liked it. To this, the young fellow chuckles and says that unlike the reel where bandits arrive on horses, the reality is quite different. Abhishek Chaubey's latest offering derives its narrative from a space where caste, gender, masculinity and patriarchy run skin deep.
The film begins with a disturbing close-up shot of a rotting carcass of a cobra being feasted on by a swarm of flies. Soon, when group of dacoits approach it, their leader lifts the serpent with the barrel of his shotgun and places it aside before mumbling a quick prayer.
We realize that beneath their tough exterior, these 'baaghis' are desperate to let go their burden of guilt of a crime gone wrong. One of them even expresses how the pride of being a bandit is slowing making way for a sense of shame.
The dacoits led by Man Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) are the mice in this game of death with a policeman Virendra Gujjar (Ashutosh Rana) hunting them down like a snake for his own personal reason. The caste, on the other hand, hovers over everyone like a vulture. The women ain't spared either. There is a scene where a female character says, "Yeh jaati sirf aadhmiyon ke liye hai, aurton ko alag hi jaat hoti hai, in sabse neeche."
Abhishek Chaubey dives deep into a landscape where death stalks everyone but doesn't guarantee redemption. The filmmaker's realistic depiction of the Chambal ravines combined with minute detailing of every character in the film is worth an applause.
Having said that, it's the cluttered narrative which plays a major spoilsport. Despite having an interesting premise, the director fails to control your senses with his bumpy execution making you a little restless in your seats.
Speaking about the performances, Sushant Singh Rajput as Lakhan wears his character like his second skin. Bhumi Pednekar delivers an earnest performance in her frames. Manoj Bajpayee as Man Singh leaves you highly impressed with his superlative acting chops. Ranvir Shorey portrays the ruthlessness and the seething anger of his character with great conviction. Ashutosh Rana's menacing act leaves a mark.
The gunfire-exchange sequences in Sonchiriya are well-choreographed and are depicted realistically. The background score adds more to the tension in the film. Anuj Rakesh Dhawan's cinematography is raw and rustic. Meghana Sen's taut editing packs in some punch.
There's a dialogue in the film which goes, "Sonchiriya jaake sab dhundh rahe hain, jo kaaho ke haath nahi aani ki." This Sushant Singh Rajput-Bhumi Pednekar starrer falls short of soaring high in the sky. I am going with 2.5 stars.