As the largest film making country in the world, we have not had indigenous versions of the Noir genre of films on our screens except for a short period in the fifties. More power to debutante director Navdeep Singh for having the courage and the vision to give us what is possibly the finest noir film in an Indian language.
Yes, in the fifties we had them for sure, notable amongst them being Baazi and Aar Paar, both directed by Guru Dutt, but they suffered from the fact that the mores of film making in India did not really allow the chief protagonist to be cynical, morally ambiguous, and deeply pessimistic about the world: a world that was jaded and characterized by an acute loss of faith in ‘universal’ values of love and justice.
The Noir (French for night, literally and figuratively standing for ‘black film’) genre gave us such Hollywood films like The Maltese Falcon and The Asphalt Jungle in the forties and fifties, and more recently the conventions of the genre have been reworked in neo noir films like the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
So what does the director do here? Navdeep Singh has crafted a film dripping with nuances of life in a small desert town, and has used the metaphor of the desert to suggest the aridness and sterility of the life of the chief protagonist, Satyaveer Randhawa, underplayed superbly by Abhay Deol.
We have the character elements of the noir genre in ample measure: a morally ambiguous, loveless world, populated by cynical and apathetic characters each driven by their own lusts and greed, the femme fatale who is sympathetic to the hero, mysterious damsels in distress, the aging patriarch with his insatiable ravenousness for power justifying his actions by appealing to the “natural order of things”, crooked cops, scummy goons, and nosey neighbors.
The script is an inspired retelling of Roman Polanski’s seventies noir classic Chinatown and to the director’s credit, he does not hide it, but instead pays tribute to it in his own way by reworking the plot and some key scenes to suit his point of view. He also throws in a direct reference to the original just to make sure you get the point.
Unlike traditional noir films, the camera work does not frame scenes in stark contrasts of light and dark, with fog and or steam cloaking people in a half light, neither is the film set in the mean streets of a city lovingly photographed to make sure that all the grittiness and grime stand out. Instead here we have the desert in all its harshness as well as in gentler moods, and scarred and pitted monuments serve as the back drop to existential ruminations and the unfolding of the plot.
The camera lingers on the characters and their reactions; it frames the characters tightly, especially inside darkened rooms, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that goes well with the dark machinations in the plot.
The cast has done a good job: both Raima Sen and Gul Panag are competent, and Vinay Pathak is simply superb as the local Sub Inspector with his cynical outlook on life.
The film does not have a climax in the conventional sense, which may leave a lot of people feeling highly dissatisfied, but a degree of redemption is achieved by the chief protagonist. Satyaveer Randhawa is again not a hero, he is not the good guy who is absolutely honest and incorruptible, but as the film proceeds, we understand that he is corrupt too. Evil is not vanquished in the end, neither does justice triumph. Evil is something that is at best lived with, because it resides in us and not in the "villain". All that we can do is to come to terms with it and with ourselves.
For those who are looking for a typical "thriller" film with the "good guy" vanquishing the "bad guys", this film is best avoided.
For those who like their life complex, their characters morally ambiguous, and would like to ponder on the workings of fate and existence, this is a film that you must see.
This review is by guest reviewer Anand S. Anand lives in Pune and is a Miscellaneous Culture Vulture. He is deeply interested in music, food, books, films, and intelligent women. He views himself as a Falstaffian figure, who does his best to indulge his appetites.
Thumbs up, by Deepa Gahlot, Cybernoon: ...makes a uniquely Indian film, capturing the suffocating ambience of a small town as very few contemporary urban filmmakers in Hindi cinema have... full review
Thumbs up, by Praveen Lance Fernandes, indiatimes : ... China Town was a complete diverse film and not an easy movie to understand in its first view. Manorama is a bit simpler to comprehend but that doesn’t mean you keep your brains at home.... full review
Thumbs up, by Siddharth Pillai, Passion for Cinema : ...Abhay Deol is no Jack Nicholson but he isn’t trying to be. He epitomizes the middle-class middle-age crisis and with gradual progression comes on his own in the climax,... full review
Thumbs up, by Saakshi Juneja, To Each Its Own : ...I love it when a script narrates the story of not only its central characters but also allows their surroundings to play a lead as well... full review
Thumbs down, by Deep, Deep's Home : ...The movie might be good for awards or may be directors but for people like you and me, I don’t think so it was anything more than a confused story... full review
Thumbs down, by Sreeram Ramachandran, M TV : ...The plot is labryinthine, with this connecting to that connecting to something else connecting to that other thing until you feel very disconnected.... full review
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Warning: this section has some details that could distort your experience while watching the movie. I strongly recommend reading this only after you have seen the movie or if you have decided not to see it.
Satyaveer Randhawa is a junior engineer in the Water department and also the writer (under a pen name) of a thriller novel called Manorama, which manages to sell only two hundred copies. This failure compels him to write for pulp magazines instead. Frustrated and dissatisfied with his existence and the burden of failure, he tries to redeem himself by taking up a mysterious assignment for the wife of a local politician, who wants him to spy on her husband. But then everything is not what it seems and things go haywire, as future events manifest.