Sonchiriya Review

The story of “Sonchiriya” is different and welcome but the treatment is unabashedly pseudo. (photo provided)

RSVP and MacGuffin Pictures present “Sonchiriya”

Produced by: Ronnie Screwvala

Directed by: Abhishek Chaubey

Written by: Abhishek Chaubey & Sudip Sharma

Music: Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey, Ashutosh Rana, Ram Naresh Diwakar, Mukesh Gour, Harish Khanna, Shridhar Dubey, Jatin Sarna, Khushiya and others

For a film that, almost arrogantly and within-film, mocks at all past masterpieces in Hindi cinema on dacoits (a memorable list that begins with “Mother India” and “Mujhe Jeene Do,” going on to “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai,” “Mera Gaon Mera Desh,” “Kuchhe Dhaage” (1973) and “Sholay,” and ends with the internationally acclaimed “Paan Singh Tomar”), it is indeed ironic, as according to a colleague who is well-versed in overseas films, some characters here resembles actors in well-known Western and other action movies abroad!

But then, that is the usual pretentious track followed by the “intellectual” (as opposite to “intelligent”) filmmakers here. Come on, even the most “original”-seeming talents have to follow some template, at least initially, but these filmmakers hoot at Indian (not just Hindi, mind you) masters and worship/ revere/flatter/imitate alien filmmakers who are predominantly seen at film festivals across the world. And if some of these foreign names do happen to make films that do well in their home countries in Europe or elsewhere, it is because that cinema is relevant to the times, tastes and ticket-buyers over there.

But OUR intellectual filmmakers in India, ironically, choose never to bother about the STUPID (their permanent idée fixe) audience here. And, since their own money is not at stake, even about the returns for the chain that enables them to show their movies on the big screen!

“Sonchiriya” is one such movie. Yes, it wants to look at the real picture among dacoit gangs. Yes, the story is different and welcome (as in Chaubey’s earlier films “Ishqiya,” “Dedh Ishqiya” and “Udta Punjab”) but the treatment is unabashedly pseudo, which also means confused and unsure about which commercial tropes can be safely put in minus “cinematic pollution,” and where, how much and in which manner, so that Chaubey’s and the movie’s branding is intact!

This is a story that begins narration during the 1975 Emergency, and about a gang of dacoits led by Man Singh (Manoj Bajpayee). The dacoits are of course “humanized,” or rather their other side (of how most of them are not really happy from within) is explored. Society is unjust to them. The caste factor and patriarchal mores also come in, along with personal convictions (almost amounting to their own brand of “conscience”). And luck is not always with them in the valleys.

Once Man Singh is killed (quite early on), the film gets into almost a standard mode, with all these factors integrated but not really in an audience-friendly pace or even manner. However, the film highlights the contrast between the loyal and unquestioning acolyte (Ranvir Shorey) and the cooler and more sensible Lakhna (Sushant Singh Rajput).

And where does the film’s title fit? Well, it is this Dalit girl, aged 12, who has been raped, and then we also have Indumati (Bhumi Pednekar), escaping from a brutal husband. For the dacoits, Sonchiriya needing medical attention becomes a mission.

The songs are a waste, but on the technical side, Anuj Rakesh Dhawan’s camerawork and Naren Chandavarkar’s and Benedict Taylor’s background score are big assets.

As with most such films and directors, they do manage to get in good to better performances from their cast. Sushnat Singh Rajput, as usual, delves deep into Lakhna, and Ashutosh Rana, once again after “Mulk” and “Simmba,” etches another memorable turn as a gray and ruthless cop. Even a limited actor like Ranvir Shorey throws a few surprises. Bhumi Pednekar, largely, is effective. Manoj Bajpayee, too, impresses for the most. The rest (mostly anonymous-for-cinema stage actors) do well.

Chaubey decidedly has a gifted director lurking within him (we have seen his past films), and if he outgrows the hangovers (which seem to be successively on the rise, for his debut film was the most entertaining and his only success to date) of his mentor Vishal Bhardwaj and the arty overseas filmmakers both Bhardwaj and he emulate and imitate, we can still hope for better work from him. For as we said, the problem is not with the content, but with the execution, given the subject’s already niche appeal.

Chaubey should focus on maximizing his movies’ appeal and minimizing the niche element! And the best way up is to stop being unduly impressed by foreign greats and study, instead, the work of our filmmaking legends.

Rating: **1/2 (Just About)

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