25 May 2010 | xpics
Dark movie - much before 'Kaminey', rock music - much before 'Rock On'. Certainly ahead of its times!
Almost all films stale out if the release is delayed by few months... forget years. Anurag Kashyup's Paanch is one of the strongest exceptions on the list. This film delayed by almost a decade is still so effective, most importantly because its narrative is timeless and was also ahead of its times making it relevant and entertaining even today.
Much before Bollywood had seen any Kaminey, Paanch was one of the first 'dark' and intense films from India and absolutely effective. Drugs, smoke, alcohol, abuse, expletives, kidnap, murder, body butchering, heavy metal rock music, dark lightening in scenes, sexual undertones in dialogues, crime thriller genre, noir treatment, erratic lyrics and much more - and none of this simply forced to make the film look pretentiously dark.
The narrative is unambiguous yet not predictable for a moment. 5 people (4 guys and 1 girl) get involved in a kidnap which leads to murder and the more they try to get out of it, the more they get trapped in it. The 5 people setting reminded of Mahabharat's Draupadi and the Paanch Pandavs (through here there was 1 guy less). There is also a subtle reference to Draupadi in a scene where Kay Kay asks Tejaswini to wear a longer sari - 'Sadi lambi pehna kar Draupadi' (the word Draupadi was muted by censor in the preview copy) - Interestingly in this scene there are 5 guys with the additional one being the one to be subsequently kidnapped (Pankaj Saraswat).
All the characters are negative and Kashyup develops each of them so distinctly. Even his approach to writing and directing every scene is absolutely innovative with the characters behaving unpredictably and the situations changing spontaneously. The characters are so unusual to Bollywood screen but so true to real life. You might have surely encountered one or the other character prototypes in real life in your college, workplace or home. One is a coward (Vijay Maurya), one is silent spectator (Aditya Srivastava), one is partner in crime (Joy Fernandes).
The performances are BRILLIANT. Without a doubt this is Kay Kay Menon's career best performance till date. He is so much into the character of a hot-headed perpetrator who vents out his frustration on anybody and everybody in the team that at times you literally feel a part of the cast who are bogged down by his constant bossing and bullying on the gang. Even when he sings a rock song, he is so much into the act that you feel he's performing for a live audience. Another gem of a discovery of this film was Vijay Maurya (who by now has become popular for his roles in Black Friday (as Dawood) and Mumbai Meri Jaan). Maurya plays his part so perfectly that you actually feel pity for his character's cowardice. Aditya Narayan and Joy Fernandes are good. It's sad that an actress as amazing as Tejaswini Kolhapure got lost never to come back in a proper role in Hindi films.
It's surprising that Censors kept the film on hold considering some of today's Hindi films have more expletives than Paanch. Actually the censor wasn't as evolved then as it is today. That's what makes the film ahead of its times. Now the film is seemingly approved by the Censors but is perhaps stuck due to producer problems. However there is not even a single smooch or even kissing scene in the film forget any sexual intimacy.
Music is one factor that Anurag Kashyap never ever gets wrong with. While we always talk of filmmakers like Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra or Sanjay Leela Bhansali to have a good music sense that reflects in their films, Anurag Kashyap has always had superlative and path-breaking musical score in all his films (though he is grossly underrated for it) and has a 100% perfect track record. Whether its Indian Ocean in Black Friday, Amit Trivedi in Dev.D or Piyush Mishra in Gulaal, all his films had refreshingly NEW and very good music. Paanch is no exception with Vishal Bhardwaj (in his early days as a composer) who composed some tunes which were traditionally not Bollywood but very interesting.
Some of the most effective scenes from the films are when - Kay Kay and Maurya get into a fight over switching off the stereo, - when Kay Kay scares Joy for a moment saying 'Kya main Joker dikhta hoon' (supposedly a tribute to Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas), - when Kay Kay faces Inspector Deshpande (Sharat Saxena) for the first time and almost every other scene.
The film brought into light the rock culture (much before the ROCK ON happened), had a subtle reference to a human body butchering scene (which has now become a cliché in crime dramas), had a noir treatment when the genre was still in its nascent stage in Bollywood. Again, ahead of its times... or would you call trend-setting!
However the film is not flawless. The epilogue added to the crime drama in the last 15 minutes is clearly stretched and perhaps the only predictable portion of the plot. The twist in the tale that it intends to create almost falls flat. Also an item number was the worst way to end an otherwise original and entertaining film. Plus the footnote added at the end of the film as a moral-of-the-story (perhaps forced by the Censors) which reads 'Crime Never Pays' absolutely kills the noir effect of the film.
Nevertheless the film is so gripping barring this slack ending that you easily excuse that blemish and enjoy Paanch as one of India's cult-classic crime dramas.