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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. 



Surkhaab, Review: Where are the feathers?

Surkhaab, Review: Where are the feathers?

First things first: the title. It is an Urdu/Persian word, also part of Hindi, that means the ruddy sheldrake/shelduck bird. Literally translated, ‘surkh’ means red and ‘aab’ means water. There is a river in north-west Asia that is also called Surkhaab, which is easy to link to the meaning. The bird has rare type of feathers, and so, someone who has special qualities is said to be possessing 'surkhaab ke par' (surkhaab’s feathers). Author Baburam Tripathi released a collection of Hindi short stories in 2003, titled Surkhaab. Proverbially, the term ‘surkhaab ke par’ is used as a negative comparison. If someone expects to be treated specially, he/she is asked “Why? Do you possess surkhaab’s feathers?” Is the title apt for the story and predicaments of its lead characters? Not really.

Jeet (Barkha Madan) is a Punjab state level judo champion, also well-versed in karate. When a man tries to make passes at her in a restaurant, she uses her skills to knock him down, and flees. It turns out that the man is the son of a minister, who is now gunning for her. Though she manages to elude her opponents for quite some time, her mother (Vineeta Malik) fears for her safety, and suggest she migrate to Canada, where her brother Pargat went eight years ago. Jeet approaches the same duo of Balbir (Naresh Gosain) and Kuldeep (Sumit Suri), who had arranged for the illegal immigration of Pargat (Nishant Bahl). They agree to forge documents for her too, provided she agrees to carry a bag for them. On arrival, she and a bunch of other illegal immigrants are whisked away to a deserted house, where the police conduct a raid early next morning. Jeet manages to escape, only to realise that being an illegal immigrant is not her real problem, the bag that she is carrying is.

Surkhaab is the debut film of story, screenplay writer and director Sanjay Talreja. Talreja started his film journey at a communications institute in native Mumbai, did his MFA from Ohio, and was a doctoral candidate in University of Massachusetts. He taught film-making in the US, University of Windsor, Canada, and at Whistling Woods in Mumbai. It begins well and the first few minutes hold promise. The wipe on the same shot is well used and the cutting is crisp. But halfway through the narrative, the film runs out of steam. What began as a suspense thriller fizzles out as a show-reel for Toronto’s various metro rail stations and trains.

Flashbacks are well integrated and most situations are realistically depicted. But he loses all sense of proportion in the number of times he plays out the cat and mouse game between Jeet and her enemies. As welcome relief, there is no gun-toting and the minor scuffles are highly credible, especially since the girl is a martial arts champion. On the other hand, Talreja’s efforts at turning restaurant singer Mariam (Kanza Feris) into a sleuth, at great risk to her life, is difficult to swallow. It is also disappointing to see the oft repeated escape trick used to escape from predators chasing the protagonist as she boards an underground train. Almost all the shots at Balbir’s place were evidently shot in short schedule, with very little changes in the background or the props. One scene in Toronto, when Pargat and Jeet exit, is confusing. All the villains are Indian, both in Punjab and in Canada. All the good Samaritans that Jeet and Pargat encounter in Canada are either immigrants from other countries or local Canadians. Is there a point being made?

Dialogue (Rajesh Chawla) is often above par, what with the tricky mix of Punjabi, Hindi and English. His pun on Jeet (victory) comes at the right moment, but there are numerous occasions when dialogue is used to try and elevate the film to a plane which is dissonant with its treatment. Kuldeep’s dialogue, delivered in the glib, twenty-to-the-dozen manner, help his characterisation immensely. Chawla has written the lyrics too, which are as pretentious as the lofty passages in his dialogue. Toronto-based film composer Anuj Rastogi has scored some tuneful music.

Co-producer Barkha Madan was first noticed in the film Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi. Next came the Indo-Dutch movie, Driving Miss Palmen. It was RamGopal Varma's 2003 horror film Bhoot (Ghost) which proved to be a turning point in Barkha's career. She played the ghost.

Later, she started a production and distribution company named Golden Gate LLC, to promote talented independent filmmakers. It produced two critically acclaimed films, Soch Lo and Surkhaab (2012). Although 37 when the film was made, she was shown to be 28. Little or no make-up has been used. Barkha is a talented actress and commands attention in many scenes. Within the confines of the script, she has done a good job. Sumit Suri (Babloo Happy Hai, Warning and What the Fish), says comedy comes naturally to him. It is villainy that he is doing here, with a dash of the motor-mouth village brat, who remains unfazed, come what may. Sumit seems to be having a ball

Vineeta Malik has done the sacrificing mother so often that she does not even need to draw on her genes (she is Alok Nath’s sister) to endear herself. With her figure measured at 36-27-36 on her profile, Kanza Feris (Splinter Cell: Operation Pheonix, American Drone, I Wish You Love, EnglishTranslation) describes her role in Surkhaab as ‘lead’ on a website. It is not lead, but she does dole out philosophy to Jeet, gives her a place to stay, and goes along with her high-risk plan. Underplaying at times, awkward at others, she just about passes muster. Naresh Gosain as Balbir looks and acts the part, which appears only half-written.           

Shot in 2012, the film has taken over three years to reach multiplex screens. It is being released by PVR Rare. Surkhaab is about being rare. Sadly, one cannot eulogise the film beyond what has already been said, because it does not have surkhaab’s feathers.    

Rating: **



Over the years, Barkha Madan was very much impressed by the ideology of Buddhism, and is an avid follower of the Dalai Lama. In November 2012, she set her mind on becoming a Buddhist nun. She had her ordination from Sera Je Monastery on November 4, under Lama Zopa Rinpoche's supervision, and changed her name to Ven. Gyalten. She later commented that it was the most important, and right, decision she ever made in her life.

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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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