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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. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Prassthanam, Review: Loyalty, integrity and legacy, to see or not to see, that is the question

Prassthanam, Review: Loyalty, integrity and legacy, to see or not to see, that is the question

When you have classics like the Mahabharat, Ramayan and Shakespeare’s works, why look elsewhere for inspiration? Update the setting and references but retain the blood and gore, conceit and deceit, loyalty and betrayal, vice and avarice, and above all, good and evil. You now have a story that every lover of mythology, every cinephile identifies with, and the figure could be well above a billion. Your story is safe. Now, let’s talk about the screenplay and direction. Or, rather, in descending order of merit, let’s talk about the story first.

Having Telugu remake written all over it, the film revolves around a small town Uttar Pradesh politician, Baldev Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt) and his family. His father was a politician too, but his candidature was challenged for the first time in 25 years by a man of a lower caste, who accused him of being too old to do the job of village headman and of favouring his own, elite caste. To prevent the challenger from being elected unopposed, the old man’s son, Raghuveer, presented himself as a candidate. This enraged the lower caste crowd. In the violence that followed, Raghuveer was killed. His brother, Baldev, managed to win the election and became the headman.

To fulfil his father’s dying wish, Baldev married his brother’s widow, Saroj, who had a son, Ayushman, and a daughter, Gunjan, who grew up to be a doctor. Ayush joined his step-father, but manages to live a conscientious life, in the middle of corruption and skulduggery. Baldev grooms him as his successor. Later, Saroj had a son from Baldev, who was named Vivaan. Amidst political turmoil, caused by opponents--a land mafia don Bajwa Khatri and a local bar owner--Baldev’s ratings fall and there is a serious possibility that he might lose the election to the legislative assembly. He joins a party and becomes its official candidate, but the misdeeds of the greedy, high-living, drug snorting and alcohol guzzling Vivaan mar the efforts of Baldev to garner votes. He resorts to buying voters. And then the ultimate tragedy strikes. Vivaan rapes and kills Baldev’s man-Friday, Badshah Malik’s daughter Asma, and makes it look like a car accident and drug overdose. The body goes to his sister-in-law for post mortem, and she refuses to doctor the report, which could exonerate Vivaan.

Deva Katta wrote and directed the 2010 Telugu original, which has been remade with hardly any changes. Hindi dialogues are by Farhad Samji, sharing credit with Jayesh Parmar, who was associate director on Housefull 3. It’s a complex plot, like many chapters of the Mahabharat or the kingly themes of Shakespearean plays. Among power-maniac politicians who “ride lions” (‘dialogue goes: politics is like riding a lion, if you fall, you are sure to be eaten up’, or thereabouts), there are… just one loyal servant, Badshah, and one man with a sense of morality, Ayush.

When you look at the women, Saroj and Gunjan have little to do. Asma, Badshah’s daughter, comes out trumps as a woman of substance and gumption, but she has to pay for it with her life. Saroj has a lot to do, but little or nothing to say. She is made to move around like a ghost who walks, a permanent expression of emotional trauma masking her face. My guess is that the dialogue too is translated from the Telugu, with an English guide-track, for where else will you find such aphorisms as, “When you cannot bite, you should not bark either,” and, “Who will decide what is right and what is wrong?” A little boy asks his father, “Papa, killing somebody is bad, isn’t it?” “Bad”, agrees the father. “Then why did Ram kill Ravan?” “Because Ravan was bad,” comes the justification.

When does the action move from UP to Mumbai, I couldn’t quite catch, but move it does. Here too, the only senior police officer shown, Raghav, is on the take and specialises in encounter killings. Fearing retaliation from Badshah for the death of his daughter, Baldev sends Raghav to kill him. He chases the hapless, unarmed victim all over HajiAli, Mumbai, near the famous dargah (shrine), pointing a gun, along with a couple of sharpshooters, until he enters the shrine. All this while, a qawwali is on, in praise of the saint.

Once Badhah is inside the sanctum sanctorum,  Raghav decides to delay the assassination till he comes out. He has respect for the saint’s resting place, but no regard for the life of the saint’s devotee. Incidentally, there is a huge crowd as a milieu to the chase, but nobody bats an eyelid. In a separate scene, Baldev orders another killing, offering the cop dozens of wads of currency notes. The cop agrees to do the needful, but comes out empty-handed. The attack on Ayush’s house has shades of Super 30, released earlier this year, while the climax, though effective and convenient, is just too well-planned to appear logical or consequential. One shooting, chase, shooting-killing, in which Badshah Malik chases the would-be assassins of Baldev, is very well executed.

Sanjay Dutt as Baldev Pratap Singh is a towering presence and plays his age. He is in the character, but not much above it. Jackie Shroff as Badshah says little but earns a lot of empathy, both for his loyalty and then his sense of justice. Ali Fazal (Khamoshiyan, Happy Bhag Jayegi) as Ayushman Singh reminds us of Shreyas Talpade, as far as features are concerned. The role was to go to Sooraj Pancholi, but there were date issues. One cannot speculate what Sooraj would have done to the character, but Ali Fazal makes him both human and humane. When he indulges in violence, you tend to feel he is doing the right thing. If you see the film, see it for Lucknow-born Ali. After ten years of being around, and doing a lot of theatre, Shakespeare included, he has finally found his opportunity, at age 32.

Manisha Koirala as Saroj has to suffer and suffer, and so she does. Chunky Pandey is made wear his hair (or a wig) grey, with a central parting. He keeps dishing out threats and ominous pronouncements, which detract from his position as a menacing moneybags Mafioso. Satyajeet Dubey has one of those black roles, where there is no scope for any grey areas. As the prodigal son, he fills the bill and might get a few offers to play the baddie. Amyra Dastur (Issaq, Mr. X, Judgemantall Hai Kya?) as Gunjan and Ishita Raj Sharma (special appearance in song "Dil Bevda") are fine in their slots. Also seen on screen are M.K. Raina as Baldev's father, Abhishek Diwan and Jay Patel. What a colossal waste of talent in the shape of Zakir Hussain, who hams as the Hyderbadi bar-owner and aspiring legislator. It is a badly written role and can safely be excised, exercising due diligence.

Sanjay Dutt and wife Maanayata Dutt have produced the film under the SSD Productions banner, the second S standing for Sunil Dutt, actor-producer-director and Sanjay’s late father. He also narrates the film, though whether he lives to tell the tale, you will know only after seeing the film. Music is by Ankit Tiwari, Farhad Samji and Vikram Montrose, cinematography by Ravi Yadav and editing by Ballu Saluja.

A word about the title. There was really no need to stick to the original, as in Telugu, Prasthanam, with just and extra s added for effect, or to balance numerical weights of the alphabets in numerology. Prassthanam maybe Sanskrit to most viewers of Hindi cinema, who would identify with Prasthaan more than Prassthanam. The word means departure. While there is a steady procession of souls being liberated from their body cages for onward travel to their other world, why be so literal? Guess with the Mahabharat and Ramayan identification, a Sanskritised word is in order. One is, of course, reminded of Rukhsat, the 1988 film, directed by Simi Garewal, which leaned on Urdu for the same meaning: leave, depart. It is a very Gulzarian title, in his rich tradition of Parichay, Achanak and Libaas.

India’s Central Board of Film Certification has been rather liberal towards the film, depicting high-voltage violence, along with political and police corruption of the highest order, yet if you follow the soundtrack carefully, the first word ‘Prime’ in Prime Minister, when Sanjay says he has bribed every minister and even the Prime Minister, has been muted. Indication? Some ministers might be corrupt, but the country’s Prime Minister is above graft.

With so many playing parts to be filmed, a length of 141 minutes cannot be considered long. Shyam Benegal’s take on the Mahabharat, named Kalyug (1981), with an updated screenplay about family feuds, lasted a good 152 minutes. It was definitely more watchable than Prassthanam. On the other hand, if, in spite of a story filled with shootings, killings, and rape, tedium and ennui set in, it is a tough 141 minutes. Here, Prassthanam is closer in effect to Vansh (1992), which gave a twist to the step-brothers syndrome. It was the remake of a Mani Ratnam Tamil original, Agni Natchathiram, but he did not direct the version.

Prassthanam, with only one bankable actor who has turned 60 and a former female star touching 50, with a director making his Hindi debut, with a subject that was so dark, with very few motivating or redeeming plotlines, was always going to be risky. I am not recommending that you risk it.

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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