Gulzar's 'Maachis' depicts the tension and terror in Punjab post the 1984 riots. During this period tension exacerbated as terrorist actions took place and alleged suspects were tortured and murdered during fake encounters. 'Maachis' follows Kripal and Veera as circumstances force them to walk the path of crime. Poet that he is, Gulzar's storytelling is lyrical and this effectively highlights the harsh irony and tragedy of the situations. Not for one moment does the story feel unreal.
The sets and costumes look authentic. The landscape is brilliantly captured. The cinematography is superb. Manmohan Singh makes efficient use of the camera as he alters between various techniques such as long shots, static and hand-held. Vishal Bharadwaj's score (that includes Gulzar's own lyrics) beautifully contributes to the film.
The performances are topnotch. Om Puri, Raj Zutshi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Suneel Sinha and Jimmy Shergill are excellent. Chandrachur Singh is very good. But, it is Tabu who steals the show with a transcendent heartbreaking performance. Even in the simpler moments, like a particular scene during the song 'Paani', within seconds her face subtly changes from smile to tears and it looks so natural.
1996 saw at least four other such cinematic treasures in the form of Shyam Benegal's 'The Making of the Mahatma', 'Sardari Begum', Mahesh Bhatt's 'Tamanna' and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Khamoshi: The Musical'. During a time when Bollywood was churning out trash, few directors like Gulzar, would give us some gems. I wish he would make a comeback like Shyam Benegal.