halahal

A scene from “Halahal.” (Publicity photo)

The film, whose title means "Venom," has a real base, in the Madhya Pradesh Vyapam Scam that involved politicians, professors, institutes and students. The writers transplant the story to Ghaziabad, technically in Uttar Pradesh but on the outskirts of Delhi, and begin extremely well with a chase sequence, followed by a murder in which the victim's body is set on fire.

What happens next is shocking: the victim's father, Dr Shiv Shankar Sharma (Sachin Khedekar), is informed that his daughter, Archana (Enab Khizra), a medical student and topper, has committed suicide, the college in which she is studying has a dean/principal, who tells him to move on, and the cops refuse to consider murder. When the autopsy reports are clearly doctored, the distraught yet angry father decides to stay back and investigate.

Operating like some kind of rebel loner is the cop Yusuf Qureshi (Barun Sobti), for whom ill-gotten money is like God. He meets Dr. Sharma and for a "fee" decides to work with him in finding out the truth. One of the first people they want to locate is Archana's friend Ashish (Chetan Sharma), who is suspiciously missing since her death. The investigations continue even after Dr. Shiv Shankar is threatened, and when the truth comes out, we know why the college and everyone else is asking him to move on—or keep mum.

This very good concept, however, is executed shoddily. For one, even at its short running time, it becomes more than a bit tedious. The now-widely prevalent obsession for "realism" leads to the film being quite a drag, a fatal point for a thriller that has such an unforeseen end. In short, the film could have been a crackerjack shocker but ends up as a limpid and too-languid story of a whopper political conspiracy.

We see the clear influences of Anurag Kashyap and his ilk in the execution, and naturally, this means a mammoth disrespect, if not apathy, to the paying audience in terms of how the story unfolds. The Kashyap school believes in pandering to critics, festivals and the intellectual audience (happily a miniscule fragment of viewers) who will admire this film highly. It looks down on the rest because it does not possess the intelligence and non-self-indulgent humility to connect on a wide scale.

The music is a disaster despite four names and the technical side is serviceable. Randeep Jha makes a passable debut as director, a shade better in the level of performances he extracts from most actors, and the (very) occasional thrilling or suspenseful moments.

Sachin Khedekar is the life of the film, and is the perfect anxious-meets-angry-meets-determined dad who is practically offered a Hobson's choice by life at the end. Barun Sobti plays to the gallery, and does it endearingly on occasion.

Watch this film only if you have a lot of patience. The 97 minute film could have easily been 79 minutes—that is, we wish that a basic tautness and grip had been maintained.

Rating: **1/2

Produced by: Priyanka Bassi, Zeishan Quadri & Shalini Chaudhary

Directed by: Randeep Jha

Written by: Randeep Jha, Zeishan Quadri, Sandeep Gade & Gibran Noorani

Music: Naman Adhikari, Sageesh Bhandari, Arjun Bhaybhang & Abhinav Sharma

Starring: Sachin Khedekar, Barun Sobti, Anuradha Mukherjee,  Purnendu Bhattacharya, Archita Sharma, Chetan Sharma, Enab Khizra, Hurmat Ali Khan, Manu Rishi Chadha & others

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