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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Family of Thakurganj, Review: Nannu, Munnu and nothing New, New

Family of Thakurganj, Review: Nannu, Munnu and nothing New, New

Referencing dozens of mafia/gangster movies made in India and the West, Family of Thakurganj glorifies crime for the major part, gets into a conscientious hiccup and sermonising after the midway mark, and ends-up offering ‘crime kills crime’ as a solution against the rot of corruption that has set in the entire fabric of the Indian police/law/politics nexus. Except for a couple of twists in the plot, there is little to distinguish it from the generic motifs of its predecessors.

Why should the name of this fully Hindi film be in English beats me, unless the makers wanted to give a nod to The Sicilian Clan. Of course, it is all fiction, but the allegory is not lost on the audience that is aware of such a sorry state of affairs, thanks to the media. Set in a fictitious small town called Thakurganj, in what must be Uttar Pradesh (one of India’s northern states), the story draws the bulk of its inspiration from classics like Mother India and Deewaar--both were about two brothers, the older a criminal, the younger a paragon of virtue--and then turns the plot points upside down, in an attempt to add novelty, or, possibly, to camouflage its source material.

A skeletal family of a father, mother and two sons is leading a hand-to-mouth existence in Thakurganj. Living on borrowings, the father kicks the bucket, leaving a young Nannu as the head of the family, with younger brother Munnu and the mother to care for. Honesty cannot suffice, so he resorts to selling illicit liquor on running trains. Before you can say “Nannu of Thakurganj”, he has grown up into a racketeer, Nannu ‘Bhaiya’, working for the ubiquitous BabaSaaheb Bhandari, the crime lord of Thakurganj, who moves about under armed protection, and has lieutenants, like Badri Thakur, and a Police Inspector called Sajjan Singh, on his payroll. He also retains a sharp-shooter called Ballu Thapa, who is currently underground.

If Nannu Bhaiya is an extortionist who has killed some of those crossed his path, his wife, Sharbati (such a sweet name; means Syrupy), is a Lady Don, who thinks that he is too soft-hearted for his job, and goads him to become even more ruthless than he is. Nannu’s mother, Sumitra Devi, is all for the guns and mazuma enterprise, while Nannu’s eight-year old daughter does her own bit at school to extort gifts and favours from fellow students, reminding them that she is the daughter of Nannu, the Terrible. Brother Munnu, in the meanwhile, has turned out to be a brilliant student and is now a professor. Running coaching classes, he wants to have nothing to do with Nannu and his wicked, wicked ways. Munnu falls in love with a young woman, Suman, who has just launched her advertising agency, and plans to marry her.

Meanwhile Badri Thakur is not happy about the affection BabaSaaheb showers on Nannu, who treats his mentor like the legendary (from the Mahabharat) archer Eklavya treated his figurative Guru, Dronacharya. After a lecture by Munnu, on why organised cheating at exams will result in a corrupt generation, Nannu, who had organised the mass copying fraud, begins his reformation and starts turning new leaves. One of the first things he does is to move out from, and return, the mansion that he lives in, to the rightful owner, from whom he had usurped it. Baba and Badri take a dim view of such idiscretions, and Ballu Thapa emerges from his ‘underground’ hideout, to ask for more money. An internecine war breaks out, wherein the first target is to be Nannu.

Adept at writing story, screenplay and/or dialogue, Dilip Shukla burst on the scene with his dialogue in the runaway hit, Ghayal some thirty years ago. Director Rajkumar Santoshi repeated him in Andaz Apna Apna, proving that the duo could be as versatile as you like. In more recent outings, Shukla wrote the blockbusters, Dabangg (co-writer) and Dabangg 2 (solo writer), both having Indian mega-star Salman Khan in the male lead. In one scene, where Suman’s father finally admits that he had gone to see a film instead of turning-up for a doctor’s appointment, Suman says it was a particular film of Salman Khan, where he braved a lathi-charge to try and get a ticket, while the father corrects her, and points out it was another Salman Khan starrer, Wanted. Here too, like in many places, the writing is half-hearted. Knowing that every time she fixes an appointment for her father’s check-up and asks him to turn up there, he never does, why does she not escort him there, straight from home?

There is no back-story to justify the transformation of Sumitra Devi from a normal mother to a fiery matriarch in the clan vein. Likewise, the wife and daughter being of an equally criminal bent of mind is just a given. Yes, the wife being an even bigger gun-toter is new to the screen, and the little girl following in her parents’ foot-steps a new, albeit highly disturbing precedent, neither characterisation is consequential to the story. If anything, Shukla cheats us by presenting Sumitra and Sharbati on one side and Munnu on the other, as champions of diametrically opposing ideologies, whereas…(spoiler alert; stop).

In another scene, that occurs twice, a possé of policeman shower bullets on a group of persons in boats at the banks of the river Ganga (Ganges). This turns out to be a dream, dreamt by a person you do not expect to be sharing his point of view with you in the narrative, at that stage. A bigger twist comes in the climax, when Baba Bhandari addresses a subjective camera, and the person turns out to be not who you expected. Such suspense is suspense alright, but of the false scare kind, the kind that is generated by birds fluttering or doors creaking, in horror movies.

Dialogue tries hard to avoid clichés, and adopts newer phraseology to convey the same old thoughts. Sadly, it does not work, for it is unable to coin its own new idiom that needs to be stronger and more claptrap than the stock-in-trade Mafia jargon. Savour this, “Hum sirf khod key nikaltey naheen, khod key nikaal key phir gaadh detey haen” (We not only dig out, we dig out and then bury again). Comedy is attempted in five or six scenes, being effective on barely two occasions. Baba Bhandari’s clout is never explained, though he is an interesting character, who guns down his daughter for marrying against his wishes, and knocks out, in one move, a wrestler from another town, who has just beaten his Thakurganj opponent. Like-wise, Munnu, Suman and her father are short-changed, notwithstanding the climax, when Munnu gets into the lime-light. Ballu Thapa is the most realistic of the gangsters, who deserved more footage and better writing.

After three films as associate director and one as writer-director (S.P. Chauhan, a biopic starring Jimmy Sheirgill, released earlier this year, a turkey), Manoj K. Jha now tackles a film which will expect audiences to shift loyalties as the film unfolds, from its mobster hero to his mother-daughter to the Superintendent of Police, Suraj Pratap Rathore, to the peacenik, Munnu, which is a tough ask. While the first two focal points propagate ‘might is right’ and ‘killer is king’, the latter gents extoll the virtues of justice, order, system, rule of law, due process, and so on. When S.P. Rathore gets into the Manoj Kumar (‘Bharat’ of the Hindi movie industry) mode, delivering a monologue, while repeatedly calling himself and his police colleagues “sipahee/soldiers”, it all becomes too much.

Stringing all these together is a TV channel that not only has reporters almost everywhere but runs a commentary on developments ranging from the non-appearance of Nannu in court cases against him to the gory murders that dot the landscape and river-scape, treating every item as breaking news, and always beginning with, “We have just received news that….” Baba Bhandari tells Nannu that he was going to the bazaar when his car developed some fault, and Munnu happened to be passing by. Munnu gave him a lift, but berated him for being a bad influence on Nannu. Very strange indeed. For a man who moves under heavy armed escort, of guards who look so much like policemen, to go to the bazaar alone, and be stranded because of a car fault, is very strange indeed. And for him to take a lift from Munnu and travel alone with him is even stranger. We are talking about a man who runs a parallel economy in the town and is in direct mobile phone contact with ministers.

An ensemble cast tries to rescue the meandering film, but is hampered by the shifting gears. They seem to give up in the second half, where the goings-on run out of steam and the writer and director struggle to get to the climax. Jimmy Sheirgill (A Wednesday!, My Name Is Khan Tanu Weds Manu) is his confident self, looking the part of a father with an eight year-old daughter. A more toned physique would have put him more in character. Underplaying the confrontationist scene with his brother was a tour de force. As the story demands, he needs to step aside and let Nandish Singh Sandhu take centre-stage in the last one-third of the film. Sandhu, last seen in Super 30) has the toned physique, ironically, but a less expressive face and diction that needs to be worked on. Same for Mahie Gill. Thin and frail-looking, she does not come across as a gun-wielding Mafiosi, the gruff intonations and the glib-talking threats apart. You might like her in the last shot of the film.

Pranati Rai Prakash could be your Mallika Sherawat in a sanitised avatar. She is fresh and charming, suffering due to an under-developed role, like Sudhir Pandey, who plays her father. Saurabh Shukla is hopelessly type-cast, and it takes all he’s got to still keep interest in his role alive. A completely odd piece of casting is Supriya Pilgaonkar as the mother. At 51, she’s almost the same age as Jimmy (48), so what was the need? Gifted she is, yet she has to struggle when performing a scene where she has to confront policemen who have come to arrest Nannu. She gloats about his bravado, insisting that he will never run away, though the fact is that he has run away. Mukesh Tiwari as Badri Pathak, the two-timing rival who vies for Baba’s affection with Nannu, has been there, done that. As has Yashpal Sharma (who was in S.P. Chauhan too, with Jimmy), as the cop on the take. It’s nice to see Manoj Pahwa play the owner of the mansion that has been possessed by Nannu, and fight for his property tooth and nail, though he may face a bullet in the bargain. Some comic relief, courtesy Pahwa and a rickshaw-driver, is welcome.

If there is one character one wanted more of it is Raj Zutshi, who is the most unlikely Ballu Thapa, with atrocious dreadlocks and shades, and a Rusi (Russian) girl-friend called Lucy. That leaves Pavan Malhotra as S.P. Rathore. He is very physical and business-like, in a familiar role: a clean cop who has come to replace a dirty one and run the vacuum cleaner through the station. It’s a big role, and has too much of posturing and pontification, though Pavan does his level best to retain credibility and dignity. Also in the cast are Lokesh Tilakdhari, Vishal Singh, Shivika Rishi, Priya Mishra and Salil Acharya.

Only two songs dot the soundtrack, and they are two too many. Wanting to eschew the obligatory ‘item’ number, they have the actors in dripping colours at a Holi fest in one song. In the other, Munnu and Suman do lip sync to playback, a rarity in these cruel times. Well written by Danish Sabri, the tunes are composed by brother duo, Sajid-Wajid, and sung by some big names: Sonu Nigam, Mika Singh, Dev Negi, Jyotica Tangri and Shreya Ghoshal.

To notch better results, the makers would need to delete about 30 minutes from the 127 minutes running time, and then add 15 minutes to take the half-tracks forward. Since nothing like that is going to happen, let me stop wishful thinking and get on to careful rating.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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