This movie is so good! And interesting! And unique! And Sonakshi is amazing in it. Seriously, you should all watch it. And maybe not read this review, because it is crazy long.
You know His Girl Friday? The movie that inspired Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani? It was of course a remake of The Front Page, only with the gender of the main character changed. In the original, it is the story of a hardbitten cynical reporter who is trying to break free, get married, and have a normal life. But his editor keeps trying to “seduce” him back into the job, offering him money for one last interview, knowing that he will inevitably get caught up in the excitement. Hugely successful play, turned into a hugely successful movie, and then one night at a party, just goofing around, the writers had some friends read it, but with a woman in the reporter role. And suddenly everything clicked into place, all that subtext of the boss being in competition with the love interest became text, and all of that sparkling creative and intellectual energy that was sparking between the editor and reporter got even brighter with a little bit of male-female romantic chemistry.
(Now, picture this with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell)
The brilliance of it was that they really didn’t change much else. They didn’t turn Hildy into “just” a female character. They kept her this ambitious unscrupulous hard-driving reporter, they just added on the little touches of insecurity over working in such a man’s world, the extra bit of how her ex-husband/editor refuses to treat her as a woman, while her new fiance refuses to treat her as anything else, and how she uses her identity as a woman as needed to advance her aims (sweet-talking an interview subject, creating sympathy with a spooked female witness, etc.). It was great! Usually being a woman means a character is diminished, even the best intended male scriptwriters tend to subconsciously weaken pull their punches with female characters. But if the character starts out as a man, it means making him into a woman just serves to augment them, give them all their original traits, but with the added meaning of having a woman carry them out.
Anyway, that’s what I am wondering about here. There were so many elements that are so specifically female. Like, the idea of silence and insanity. Those are tools used against women constantly! Like, going back to ancient folktales, there is always the woman who is attacked but cannot speak of it for whatever reason. Removing a woman’s voice is always a symbol for her power.
And madness, of course, that’s in everything! You know the book The Woman in White? Great great Victorian novel, super fun read. The plot involves a woman being wrongfully committed to an insane asylum at one point, by her evil husband, and of course she has no way of escaping because no one will believe her husband over her. And then there’s Gaslight, the 1940s movie from which we get the verb “gaslighting”. Ingrid Bergman’s husband convinces her she is going insane. Well, almost. She managed to break free of his mind games with the help of Joseph Cotton.
So here in Akira we have a plot with all of these very female problems for our heroine. She is ignored and dismissed by everyone, including her own family. Those in power don’t even consider her as a factor. The only people she can rely on are fellow outcasts and powerless people of society. But, it was originally written for a male! That’s what surprises me.
Although, being originally written for a male, that means she gets to be an AWESOME ACTION HERO alone with everything else. Sonakshi is, truly, phenomenal! She should always be an action hero! Great with the fight scenes (I am pretty positive that she did all her own stunts), and great with the quiet stoic bits in between fight scenes. And she has the strong presence to sort of hold the movie.
Also surprisingly good, Anurag Kashyap! How did I not know he was going to be in this movie? He is essentially playing himself. Or at least, himself as I imagine him. In love with his own power and his own opinions, sees other people as obstacles to his own success, and women in particular are primarily there to be used by him. He makes another part of the film that is just so much better with a female heroine. As a classic disgusting confident macho man, he just doesn’t even consider her as a problem.
Konkona Sen Sharma is unsurprisingly wonderful. She’s always wonderful, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until I saw her back on my screen. Her character provides a lovely slow serious discussing counterpoint to Sonakshi’s silent action.
Let’s see, what wasn’t so great? The songs. Vishal and Shekhar forgot to take their caffeine pills or something, there was just no energy there. After a pretty all time awesome soundtrack for Sultan, this is just nothing special. Not that they had much visuals to support their sound, there were barely two real song sequences. No dancing, just montages.
The plot was also a bit confused. I went with the same friend I always see these movies with, and she could not get over how corrupt and venal and violent and confusing everything was. And it seemed normal to me. And then I remembered that I have been on this Telugu film kick and she has not! Yeah, for a standard big budget Hindi film, this plot is crazy complicated with way too many moving pieces, and crazy violence, and a very dark view of society. But for a southern film, eh. Kind of run of the mill.
It would be a kind of run of the mill southern film in general, with a little added touch of “the innocence of society are forced to carry their burden”, but that gender switch brings it to a whole new level. It’s too bad that the early box office reports are so bad, no one’s going to be willing to risk a female action heroine again. Well, at least not until Kahaani 2 comes out.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Diving right in, we open with a voice over, and I totally recognized Konkona Sen Sharma’s voice as the one doing it! Boy, I have really missed her. She is explaining that Akira was always different, graceful strength, as her name says. That the world tested her with her own qualities. We start in present day, three figures being dragged from the back of a van and pulled into the woods. Two of them, the guys, are begging for mercy. Sonakshi is silent, and the captors make fun of her, calling her a “hero”. The 3 of them are lined up, kneeling down, in a row. The first one is shot, and then the gun swings around to aim at Sonakshi and she stares it down.
And, chyron, 14 years ago in Jaipur. Nice light song, not very memorable, plays in the background as we see a little girl in class being taught in sign language by Manoj Bajpai. He walks her back home after school, they are clearly father and daughter. The little girl is kind of big and kind of chubby, which I love, because it is nice to see a big little girl in a movie, and also it makes her look more like grown-up Sonakshi, you can really feel the connection.
(Of course, we’ve already seen a big little boy in a big movie!)
And then in the middle of this childhood idyll, it all goes wrong! Sonakshi is waiting at the bus, an older girl is walking by talking to friends, she is smiling and bright and joyful, and then some skinny kid rides his bike over, shouts “this is what you get for rejecting me!” and throws acid in her face. It’s really graphic, she starts screaming and falls to the ground with her face melting away.
One of the people I saw this with, who has seen a fair number of movies with me, but hasn’t studied India (some of the other people in my regular movie group have lived in India, and/or down advanced research on Indian topics. Needless to say, Shahrukh was their gateway drug into it!). She thought this whole scene was ridiculous and over the top, how unbelievable that someone would actually throw acid on a girl’s face just because she turned down his advances! And that he would get away with it. It probably would have been kinder to leave her in the dark, but instead we very gently broke the news that this whole sequence is completely based in reality, and in fact there are many many people all over the world who are just this evil.
Also, I suspect, based in reality is the next part, where no one is willing to be a witness against the kind of guy who would throw acid on you, except for little schoolgirl Sonakshi. She confidently points the guy out, and he is taken off to jail. And then his nasty little friends confront her at the bus stop and slash her face, scarring it.
Somewhere in here, the acid attack victim comes home as well. She seems to return to Sonakshi’s household? But there are more people there than just Sonakshi’s parents and brother, so I’m going to say cousin? Or close neighbor? Anyway, everyone freaks out when her veil comes off and her destroyed face is revealed. It seems kind of over the top, this reveal, followed by her looking in the mirror and screaming as a photo of her pre-attack hangs next to it. But, on the other hand, would it be doing any favors to try to downplay the effect of this kind of attack? The physical (her new face), the mental (her screams), and the social (her family moving away from her). Although, there is a “happy ending”, she is taken to live in a communal home with other acid victims who gently pat her and hug her and welcome her and tell her that her life isn’t over. I wonder, is this all make-up or did they film this at an actual communal home for victims? If it is make-up, it’s quite well done. If it isn’t make-up, it’s well done in a different way! Letting them speak for themselves.
Meanwhile, little Sonakshi is disturbed and unhappy. And we see her father notice her sad little face and gently take her to dance class. Oh, wait, not dance class! No, they turn away and walk right by, and go to the martial arts class next door instead! Little Sonakshi isn’t going to be afraid any more!
(It’s kind of like this, but with a chubby little girl instead of Tiger Shroff)
She practices and practices and practices. And then one day, the acid thrower is back at the bus stop, out on bail, and he goes up with his nasty friends to confront Sonakshi again. Her father is there, but he stands back, and let’s Sonakshi handle it herself. The guys advance on her, and she doesn’t back down. Instead, she waits for their attack, and then quickly and efficiently beats them up! It’s believable too. I mean, she isn’t throwing them across the street or anything. It looks like a reasonable match between a well-trained 12 year old and some skinny teenage boys who aren’t used to people fighting back.
The culmination is when the acid thrower come at her directly, and she slaps him! Not a punch or a kick or a hit, but a slap, because that is how little he means. Of course, he can’t take the insult, and fumbles for his acid bottle again (okay, a little unbelievable that he would just be carrying that around, but I could also see a sort of toxic machismo that makes him enjoy having it with him). He starts to throw it at her, she blocks his throw, and he ends up burning his own face off!!!! So satisfying!
But, of course, we can’t have nice things, and right after this triumphal moment, Sonakshi ends up being blamed for everything and thrown into juvenile detention for 3 years. And now, present day! Still in Jaipur, still in the same old house, but Sonakshi is now grown up and her nice understanding father is dead.
That whole bit I just covered was only like 5 minutes of screentime, but it was extremely important, so I took a really long time over it. The next like 15 minutes, not so important, gonna kind of zip through them. Sonakshi’s mother is thinking about moving to Bombay to live with Sonakshi’s brother. Sonakshi is against it, saying that he never comes home ever since he married that Maharashtrian girl, and he just wants his wife and sister with him now to help take care of their baby. But then Sonakshi’s mother and brother confront her at school the next day, and talk with her and her principal. Sonakshi explains that she has already “wasted” 3 years of her education, she is eager to finish with it and not waste any more time. Her brother says he has a connection at a school in Bombay, he can get her in no problem. And her principal confirms it is a good school and she could finish her degree there without any problems. With no good objection left, Sonakshi has to agree.
They arrive in Bombay (usually establishing shot of Victoria Station/C.S.T.), and go straight to Sonakshi’s brother’s apartment. Where his wife greets Sonakshi’s mother by bending for a blessing. Oh, no she didn’t! She was just picking up baby toys, which are strewn everywhere. She is kind of a nasty career woman type. Definitely seems uncomfortable with Sonakshi. And even more uncomfortable when her younger brother shows up, and starts giving Sonakshi some eyes. And hey, it’s Amit Sadh! My new crush from Sultan!
(Also Kai Po Che! Somehow he ended up with the worst career of all 3 of them)
Sonakshi picks up on the vibes in the room, and offers that she would really prefer to stay at the hostel on campus, rather than live at home. Her brother and mother object, but her sister-in-law kind of gives her an approving glance. The next day, she goes with her father to meet with the Priest (?) head of her new college. He’s dressed kind of like a Catholic Priest would be, but has a wife and daughter (his daughter pops in and interrupts their meeting), so maybe he’s Anglican? Anyway, he seems like a nice guy, and is happy to welcome her to join their classes immediately. But, he doesn’t have room for her in the hostel. Unless she is willing to take room 17, which has been kept empty since a student committed suicide there last year. Sonakshi has no problem with that. She would rather be alone in a suicide room, than share space with another student or stay with her family. Oh, and in this scene, there is also a student who pops in to complain about another petty theft, which is apparently a constant problem in the hostel.
Sonakshi walks across campus to the hostel with the hostel servant giving her the tour of campus, explaining they share the space with a school for deaf and dumb children, and that the school is trying to raise money to restore the old church on campus. Oh right, her brother handed over a check to the Priest at the end of their conversation. Actually, the Priest hands him a check book and tells him to make it out at the end of their conversation. So even this seemingly nice guy has an extra motive in accepting Sonakshi into his college.
Sonakshi’s room is spooooooooooooky. Lots of scribbling on the walls and stuff. I was thinking it would just have bad vibes because of the suicide. Not that it was an actually disturbed person who drew evidence of her disturbance all over the walls. And that the school never bothered to paint over them! But Sonakshi is fine with it.
Sonakshi is also fine when, in class the next day, a punk looking girl with short hair and multiple ear peircings, pokes her head in and announces they are having a strike, everyone should leave. The nice teacher is kind of distressed, because he was in the middle of lecture, but the students seem kind of cheerful to have a day off. Except, after they all leave and the room clears out, there is Sonakshi, still quietly sitting at her desk. The professor gives her a big smile and keeps lecturing.
(It’s in a college classroom, but is otherwise not like this song at all. But I really like this song)
Later, Sonakshi is getting her food at the canteen, and the bully pierced girl slaps the tray out of her hands. She just quietly kneels down to pick up the food, instead of reacting.
Oh! I just realized who Sonakshi’s character reminds me of! Rambo! From the first movie, not the others. So beaten up by life, and so used to violence, that all she wants is to be left alone. It can come off as cowardly or strange or doormat-ish to those who don’t know her, but they will learn that it covers a very strong sense of strength and ability.
This whole school sequence is intercut with the “bad guys” plot. We first meet the bad guys when they are driving their police jeep at night, and Anurag Kashyap (cannot BELIEVE he is in this movie!!!) lights up a marijuana cigarette and starts to drive. His new sergeant is gently asks if he can drive, and Anurag takes offence, asks one of the other guys to pass him the sober driving inhaler thing and prove he is under the legal limit. The new sergeant gently suggests that it isn’t the alcohol he is worried about. Anurag claims he is perfectly fine, and to prove it, points out a bunch of pavement dwellers sleeping with their heads on the edge of the road. He starts speeding up, everyone else in the car gets nervous, and then at the very very last minute, he hits the breaks. Everyone comes out to confirm that no one was hit. The new guy asks one of the old hands “if he does this all the time, why were you just as scared as me?” And the old hand says “this is the first time he has breaked in time.” Shivers! Such a great intro!
Anurag’s gang first runs afoul of Sonakshi when Anurag distracts the driver of the jeep on another night, and the driver knocks into Sonakshi’s professor and a student he is giving a ride on his bike. The professor and student object and say they will file a complaint, but Anurag comes out and bullies them, saying no one will believe it. But the student declares he will feel “student power” for disrespecting their professor. A petition is quickly drawn up and passed around campus. And when the commissioner comes to town, there is a mass of students with signs etc. blocking the road. In charge of clearing them out is one of Anurag’s corrupted underlings. He calls Anurag for advice, and is told to just beat them up and get them out of the road. The police do a lathi charge, throw smoke bombs, and finally the commissioner is almost there, and the underling panics and raises his gun and fires into the air. When the smoke clears away, the students have fled to the side, but Sonakshi is still sitting in the center of the road, all alone. She quietly stands up and walks over to the car that has just arrived, as the police commissioner (presumably) gets out. She hands him a file and explains that it is a petition of students, one of their professors was insulted by a police officer, and they would appreciate action taken.
A few days later, Anurag and his gang are hanging out on the side of the road by their jeep, and Anurag is telling them how he would have handled it better, no need to shoot off the gun, you can’t keep it quiet once you use your gun. His lecture is interrupted when they see a car come speeding up, and suddenly swing round the corner and ram into a pile of stones. The 4 cops slowly start moving over to look at the car. The peak into the front seat, decide the driver must be dead, because he doesn’t seem to be moving. Anurag starts scrolling through his phone to find the number of the officer in charge of the area, when his underlings call him over to look. They’ve found a suitcase in the trunk and it’s full of cash. Before they can really process this, and decide whether or not to take it, there is a sound and the driver opens the door and starts stumbling towards them! Cool shot from inside the trunk as Anurag reaches back and feels for a weapon. He comes out with a tire jack and swings it into the back of the driver’s head, killing him, while his underlines stare. Finally, he orders them to put the body back into the car, and take the money into the jeep.
It’s very nice that we built to this moment, that this wasn’t the first time we saw these characters. We already know that they consider themselves above the law or any other considerations, especially Anurag. That Anurag has trained them to fear him and nothing else. And that Anurag himself has no concerns beyond his own amusement and protection. Even the conversation they were just having! Quietly reminding us that police have to account for bullets, so they had to kill this guy with a blow to the head, not a gun. It doesn’t feel like a random evil act, but like the continuation of what they have been doing all along.
Later that night, Anurag is having out with a woman in her apartment. Okay, this is my favorite bit of the movie! Not the prostitute character, she’s fine but not spectacular. No, her apartment! It is FILLED with posters for class female lead Indian films! Sujata, Dev D, Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah, all there! At first I was thinking it was because she was a prostitute and social outsider, she worships Umrao Jaan and other heroines like that. And then I thought maybe it was an homage to other female lead films, to tie this one back to that history. And then I decided it was both! Yes, it is all of the female films of Indian history. But also, most female films of Indian history have prostitute/Tawaif heroines. So our prostitute heroine here is part of that tradition, raised to think that her only choice is this kind of a life. And the film we are currently watching right now, would give her some other options.
(Did I need to explain that the poster is for the “real” Umrao Jaan, not the Aishwarya one? That was obvious, right? Also, did you know that Muzaffar Ali is designing a clothing line now?)
I’m pretty sure she is a prostitute just from this scene (it’s confirmed later), because their conversation is so transactional. She invites Anurag to come to bed, he says no, because a news report catches his eye, and he sends her out of her own bedroom because he has to make a call. He calls up his underling to say that the accident was reported as just another accident, so that’s all fine. But he is a little worried about the method of murder, he hit him on the back of the head and he should have aimed for the front, so it looked more like the accident did it.
We move slowly from a close up on Anurag back to a camera, stationed at a camera aimed at the bed, watching him. And then we see that same camera playing a video of him talking about the murder, being watched by the prostitute and two men sitting at a table. She is asking them to help her raise money off of it, explains that Anurag rounded her up in a raid a few months back, didn’t file charges, but took her name and address and has been coming around ever since. She set up the camera just to catch him having sex with her so she could threaten him and get her to leave him alone. But then she caught this instead. Her two friends, two young men, refuse to help, saying this is way too big for them to handle, they thought it was a simple student in love with her kind of situation. She follows them to the restaurant door, asking them to please think about it, this could get them enough money to go back to the village. They agree to think about and leave, and when she goes back to the table, the camera is gone from her bag.
I want to pause here and talk about how nicely this brief scene draws in the outlines of our “typical” prostitute character. She isn’t objecting to having sex in general, or complaining about being driven to this profession. She is just sick of having to be nice to Anurag and give him whatever he wants whenever he wants it. She isn’t a damsel in distress, she is under his thumb in the same way that his co-workers are, or the professor from Sonakshi’s school. He gets off on having power over others, not physical power, but real world power. And he is using that same kind of power over her.
And I like that the two men she turns to for help aren’t in love with her, or her pimps. They are her friends, her true friends. They turn her down, but agree to think about it. And her little comment about how it could get them all out and they could go home together fills in the rest of the picture. They are three kids who came to the city together, she ended up in prostitution, they are picking up jobs here and there, and all they want is to go home again.
(Like this, but much poorer and ending much more sadly)
Right, yeah, none of this really matters because her camera is stolen and they can’t work together to do anything. But she is smart, and figures out that it was the college kids at the next table who took it (nice pay off there too. We had several college scenes where kids were warned to never ever leave their things unattended. So when she got up and left the table for a moment, and this huge crowd walked by, I was already thinking “No! Something’s going to get stolen!”). She gets the waiter to tell them what school they are from, but her investigation stalls there.
Meanwhile, Anurag is cockily stepping out of the police station like he owns the place. Just in time to see a very pregnant Konkona Sen Sharma step out of a police car. He greets her with a little patronizing sneer and a remark about how she’s been reassigned “again”. And Konkona comes back with a nice line about how “sometimes to take the straight path, you end up going crooked.” Meaning, I assume, as an honest police officer her job is constantly being moved back and forth.
After Konkana gets off that nice burn and moves into the station, Anurag’s phone rings. He picks it up to hear his own voice on the recording. He calls back right away, and we the audience see a female hand with painted nails reach down and reject the call. But we don’t see who it is. I immediately assume it is the campus bully, with the short hair and earrings, who is also the campus thief.
Meanwhile, Sonakshi has been going through her own trials. She is visiting her brother’s house, and her sister-in-law sees her chatting on the terrace with Amit Sadh. It isn’t much of a conversation, and when Amit offers her a ride back to campus, she turns him down, so I’m not exactly seeing a great romance. But her evil sister-in-law is, and confronts her after Amit leaves. In the nicest/nastiest way possible, she mentions that her father was upset just with having the police come to verify Amit’s passport application. They don’t know about Sonakshi’s past, and it would be “better” if it stayed that way, and if Sonakshi didn’t get “close” with her sister-in-law’s “family”. Sonakshi gets the message (stay away from my little brother, you toxic person), and leaves.
Back on campus, she runs into more trouble. Another run in with the campus bully. I forgot, at some point she was talking on the public hostel phone when the bully came up and tried to take it. Sonakshi grabbed her arm and easily twisted it back until the bully gave up.
Now, Sonakshi is quietly sitting on a bench, and the bully is encouraging one of her male sidekicks to attack her. You know, besides that early run in, I don’t think Sonakshi ever fights a woman in this movie. Which is great, so often female action heroines are limited to just fighting female bad guys. Like they couldn’t handle anyone else. Or like the director is trying to titillate us. But in this, Sonakshi fights the bad guys and the bad guys are likely to be “guys”, so why not have her beat up like a dozen of them with no women around?
(This is as good a time as any to post the trailer)
This particular guy comes up, with a knife pulled. Sonakshi stays still until the very last minute, and then grabs a potted plant and swings it around and knocks him right in the head!!! And, in a super delicious moment, the camera swings down to his unconscious body to show us that he has wet his pants in fear. And Sonakshi grabs her bag and walks away.
The bully gathers her gang around, and we see that they are going out and calling in more people. They storm through campus, eventually landing at the canteen and asking the worker if he saw a girl in a blue shirt. He points to the corner, and there is Sonakshi, hiding by the soft drink machines. The bully goes up to her, and Sonakshi begs “please please don’t make me fight you. If I thrash all of you, I will get in trouble again and lose more time.”
I love this! Because it is completely serious. She isn’t saying a “cool guy” line, she sincerely doesn’t want to fight them and get in more trouble, because she knows she will beat them. And, of course, she does. Awesome fight! She flips and spins and kicks and manages to beat up all of the top three gang members. In the end, they are the only ones left standing (because they held back and sent in others to do their dirty work), and she just gives them a look, and they make a run for it.
The other woman in our story, our prostitute, isn’t doing so well. She comes home to find the cops waiting for her. They tie her to a chair and start hitting her, finally Anurag pulls out a gun and she tells them everything. With lots of stops and starts and audible swallowing. I think choking and swallowing dialogue may be the thing that irritates me most. I hate it when actors do it, even Shahrukh has a nasty tendency towards audible swallows in some cases. Just say your lines! I just want to know what happened! I don’t want to watch your huge method actor thing as you draaaaaaag it out for an extra five minutes!
Right, she tells them the whole thing we already knew about the camera, the accidental videotape, showing it to her friends, and then being stolen by a college kid. She tells them the name of the college, but not the name of the shop she was at. And Anurag is so angry, you think he is going to shoot her, but instead he just shoves her chair hard until it tips over and she hits the floor. And then she isn’t moving. Anurag bends over and pats her face and calls her name, and you think he is feeling some regret, or just SOMETHING for what he just did, but then he says “You never told me the name of the coffee shop! What was the coffee shop? What was it?” So, yeah, he continues to be gross and horrible and only thinking about his own interests.
Konkona is called in to investigate the death, there is a cool cut from Anurag telling his underlings “clean this up” to Konkona walking through the living room and the slow reveal of the poor prostitute’s feet hanging from the ceiling where she was hung. Konkona just slowly looks around, notices that her make-up is smeared. And her face is bruised. And there is a charging port for a video camera, but no camera. Her assistant on the case is one of Anurag’s men, and he is looking more and more nervous in the background. And then they take delivery of the record of the victims last few credit card transactions, Konkona notes that it was a nightclub, a beauty salon, and a coffee shop. Anurag’s guy in the background lights up at this. And then Konkona decides she is going to investigate this list herself, and takes it back from him before he can see the name of the shop.
(This isn’t related to anything except that it is the first moment I realized that Konkona Sen Sharma was totally awesome)
Sonakshi meanwhile has returned to her hostel, where she finds a bag outside her room. Everyone else is gone for the holidays, so she is alone when she unlocks her door and takes it inside. She empties it on the bag and is digging through the pile of stolen phones and ipods and the video camera, when two of Anurag’s men burst in. They have been staking out the hostel, looking for exactly this. And when Sonakshi asks what they want, they pull a gun on her. There is a nice moment here when they first turn aggressive, and Sonakshi starts to raise her hands up to attack, then sees the guns and stops. It’s a small enough movement that you can believe that the bad guys don’t even notice it, and Sonakshi did it perfectly, really looking like an instinctive reaction to a sensed threat, that she had to consciously shut down as soon as she saw that guns were involved and it wouldn’t work.
And now we are finally back to the opening! The two guys are rounded up as well, the prostitutes friends. They are thrown in the back of an old van along with Sonakshi. And then lead out into the woods, one of them is shot, the other screams, and the gun turns onto Sonakshi. And then, before they can shoot her, the cell phone rings! It’s Anurag, who had lied to them that he had to leave town on business, but is actually relaxing at home, going over the evidence they gathered, because he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. But he is smart, and he’s noticed that the record of thefts from the college go back long before Sonakshi arrived. They’ve got the wrong girl. And just then, the phone cuts out!
Small continuity note here. I don’t think there is necessarily a reason they are sure that the blackmailer is a woman. Most of the thefts were from the girl’s hostel, but that’s it. In the original, when Sonakshi was a boy, this would make more sense since a boy would be a default assumption. But wouldn’t you need a little more to be sure that this random girl was your blackmailer? Anurag never heard a voice over the phone.
But, okay, they somehow know for sure that it is a woman, and now Anurag has figured out that it isn’t this particular woman. And, of course, he is blaming his underlings for missing it, because that’s the kind of guy he is. And because he is that kind of a guy, when the phone cuts out in the middle of the call, they all freeze and can’t decide what to do next because they are terrified of disappointing Anurag.
(Maybe that is the problem with Bombay Velvet? Everyone was so afraid of disappointing Anurag that they just stood around and waited for his orders, and then followed them blindly?)
While Sonakshi sits there and waits, they have a discussion. No one has a phone on them. But there was a call bax a few miles back. Two of them have to go, one to call, and one to drive the van. Meaning only one of them will be left to hold the hostages. Sonakshi does a great job of staying still and blank but conveying to the audience that her mind is working as she looks for her chance.
The two other guys take off. They reach the call box and get through to Anurag. Who doesn’t bother asking what happened or why they didn’t call back right away, because he can’t be bothered to think about others. But he goes right on with his thoughts, they have the wrong girl, but at this point she definitely knows too much, so just go ahead and kill her anyway. Only, before they can go back and do it, the van stops! They open up the engine to find a broken belt. And then glance over at the bicycle propped against a tree. And the one poor youngest cop has to start wobbling down the road to bring the message back to kill all the hostages.
Meanwhile, back in the forest, the other kid decides to make a break for it. He gets up and runs, with his hands still handcuffed behind his back. The hostage keeper shoots him, then decides to shoot Sonakshi anyway. He aims the gun right at her face, and pulls the trigger. And it miss-fires! He checks it, aims again, and it miss-fires again! He takes a closer look, clears the chamber, and when he looks back Sonakshi is gone! He looks around and, MASSIVE KICK!!! The gun goes flying, and so do the keys. Sonakshi scrambles for the keys and manages to unlock herself, just as he grabs the gun, and she grabs a branch and knocks him out. And then takes off running, leaving the 3 bodies on the ground behind her. INTERVAL
Back from interval, the bad guys are talking the car, realizing that they have to do something. Anurag is back now, and they are on the hunt for the escaped Sonakshi. Sonakshi, meanwhile, went straight to her principal. Not a bad idea! He seems like a nice guy. And he believes her story, and calls up his lawyer friend to help them out. But the lawyer is in Pune and won’t be back until tomorrow. In the meantime, he tells her to go somewhere and be safe.
Sonakshi goes to her brother’s apartment, where she isn’t exactly greeted with open arms. Her sister-in-law’s family are all in town for a wedding, there is a crowd of people, and her sister-in-law shoots her death eyes when she walks in. She goes to hide in the bedroom and asks her brother if she can speak to him, alone. The conversation starts out nice, the brother is willing to listen, and he hands her cash to cover her canteen bill. But then her sister-in-law comes in and starts babbling about a sari receipt and if they bought 12 or 13, and drags her husband out into the main room. Everyone is talking and confused, and no one has time for Sonakshi. So she quietly walks out. And, song! As Sonakshi wanders the city, looking for somewhere to be safe for the night. She stops at one point and uses a public telephone to call Amit. But he is driving in for the wedding and isn’t in town yet and can’t help her. She doesn’t bother telling him the whole story, just hangs up and keeps moving.
(Good as time as any to put in this video. It’s mostly clips from the rest of the movie, but this is actually the song that plays while Sonakshi is wandering around)
Finally, she finds the college bully and her companions hanging out at a roadside stall. She confronts them, saying that their petty thefts have gotten her into more trouble than they could imagine! That she left them alone and just wanted a peaceful life. The bullies object and a fight is about to break out, when the police show up to arrest them all. Noooooooooo!
The evil cops show up once they are all in the cells, and quickly let all the other kids free. Darn it! I was really hoping for a moment when she and the bullies all came together to fight the larger corruption. But I guess not. They all run off, and she is left alone in a cell.
Meanwhile, her principal has noticed she hasn’t shown up for class. He calls her home, learns she came and asked to talk to her brother, and then left. They call Amit, he hasn’t heard from her either. They file a police report, naming the one inspector who’s name she heard as involved. Anurag tells his underlings it’s fine, they can still figure it out. And cut straight to shock treatment being blasted onto Sonakshi’s head! Noooooooooooooo!
See, to hide her and to explain all her stories, they have had her committed. And are actually driving her mad through drugs and shock treatment. Amit actually does find her, his NGO is working with the asylum, helping to care for the inmates. And one of his friends recognizes Sonakshi from pictures, but she is too out of it to respond. The family goes to the police, who tell them very seriously that Sonakshi is “ill” and they need to take care of her. They ask if she had a trauma before in her life, and her mother nervously remembers that she went made and attacked a boy with acid as a child. The doctor from the asylum confirms, she is ill and needs to stay there to be treated. The family visits her and tries to get a reaction, but she just sits and looks at nothing, all drugged out.
This whole sequence is SO FRUSTRATING!!!! And so true to life! Her own family finds it easier to listen to the usual “authority” figures, the police and the doctors, instead of to their child. Her mother has even accepted the common version of Sonakshi’s earlier fight, even though we saw her father was right there and surely at one point the family knew the full version. But after repetition and everyone else in society accepting that Sonakshi was a mad girl who had to be put away, her mother believes that version of her childhood now too.
And of course insanity, and other health issues, have a long history of being used in this way against women. Male doctors controlling their bodies and minds, telling the patients and their families that they know best. This is one of the things I find so amazing about this film having originally been written for a male lead. Because the idea of all those who are supposed to be on “her side”, turning against her just because someone with a “louder” voice in society says she is wrong, that is so female! I mean, it works fine for a boy who got a bad name from time in juvenile detention as well, but it has a whole other level with a heroine.
The time in the asylum has a whole other level with a female heroine as well. Movies from Bandini to 22 Female Kottayam have used the idea of the time in imprisonment, in all female imprisonment, as a time of rebirth and gathering of strength (of course, there is also the history of male false imprisonment in asylums, notably Pyaasa and Tere Naam). So it is for Sonakshi. She comes out of the drugs a couple of times, long enough to make a connection with a Hijra, Rani, who seems a bit out of it, but still pleasant and friendly. Rani offers to help her escape. And one night she grabs the keys off the wall, running to unlock the door on Sonakshi’s cell. Great moment, the guard sees her, she is still fumbling with the lock, the guard comes up behind her to hit her, and suddenly POW! Sonakshi kicks the door open and knocks out the guard in one move. But the other guards have already been alerted and are running towards them.
Really cool fight scene here. Sonakshi fights them off, one by one, while also fighting off the effects of the drugs. She will fall to the ground, fighting off double-vision. And then as soon as someone lays a hand on her, rise up again to throw them off.
Sonakshi goes straight to her family. NO!!! They’re horrible, don’t do it! They hear her in the apartment, and come out to find her playing with the baby. Of course, everyone is worried about the innocent baby, not the slightly older innocent holding the baby. Sonakshi starts trying to explain, but is confused, and isn’t sure where to start. And they clearly aren’t believing her anyway, even her mother doesn’t believe her. And then the asylum people burst through the doors and start dragging her away again, as she screams and her family helps to hold her down. Uff! That is dark, her own mother holding her as she is drugged!
By the way, I should mention that my family is filled with mental health professionals, so I am aware that obviously, real mental illness is a terrible thing, and there are families who, in the most loving way possible, do need to hold down their children and force them to have shots. But if your perfectly sane seeming daughter comes to you with an illogical story for the first time in her entire life, don’t you want to talk to her a little directly, before just taking some doctor’s word for it that she is insane and you should lock her up? And if you do take the doctor’s word, isn’t that a pretty good sign that you never really liked or understood your daughter to begin with? And are secretly a little glad to have an explanation and an excuse to stop trying?
It all works out though, because Sonakshi is put in a wheelchair and taken out, wheeled into the back of the ambulance, which takes off before the keepers can get in! It’s Rani! She’s driving the ambulance! There’s still a chance!
There’s also a chance because Konkona is still on the case. Remember, she had that list of businesses to check? She finally landed at the coffee shop, where they told her about the theft. And she was able to get the security footage and identify the thief. It’s the principal’s daughter!!!!
She goes round to the principal who explains the missing parts of the story, and takes responsibility for everything that has happened. He always said that if the thief would just put everything in a bag and put it anywhere in the hostel, they would ask no questions and redistribute all the items. So, when he found out what his daughter had been doing, he pulled out everything she found and put it in a bag. And then put the bag next to Sonakshi’s door, since she was the only one still at the hostel. And he was too ashamed to tell his part of the story when Sonakshi told him about the video camera etc. All along, the principals daughter could testify about the video she saw, but she was kept from it because her father was hiding her. Well, and because she was a coward who turned to thievery as a way of petty rebellion, and got caught up in the excitement of it. But, to me, the bigger message is that the principal’s concern for his own reputation and power has lead to this disaster. Once again, Sonakshi has been sacrificed so that a male in power can stay in power.
But now she is fighting back! First, she breaks into the house of the doctor who runs the asylum, who is watching cartoons in his underwear. Ha! It’s a great cutting him down to size moment, he may like to be the big man who controls everything at work, but really he is just a small silly man in his underwear. And Sonakshi treats him as such, not bothering to really fight him, just beat him with a stick. He admits what he did, that he accidentally killed a patient and Anurag helped him cover it up, and now he has to do whatever Anurag asks. Sonakshi is in the middle of demanding that he tell this to her family and her school, when there is a knock on the door and she runs off. Darn! It’s Konkona at the door! Sonakshi could have told her everything and fixed it all right then!
But instead, she goes to the nightclub the doctor mentioned and waits in the bathroom for one of the cops. And then beats him. Only, when he is lying knocked out on the floor, and she is standing over him, another nightclub patron comes into the men’s room! Sonakshi signals to Rani to go stand by the sink while she stands by the stalls. The patron hesitates when he sees them and says “Isn’t this the men’s room?” Sonakshi says “no, it’s the ladies”. The patron looks at the guy on the floor and says “isn’t that a man?” Sonakshi looks down at him and says “he came into the ladies room by mistake, so we beat him up.” And the patron runs for it. Ha! Okay, that was great.
And then everything starts happening very fast. Sonakshi has this guy tied up and is beating him until he confesses, then she calls Amit Sadh on the captive’s phone and tells him to take her family to the college event day in the morning to learn the truth. Meanwhile, Anurag is listening in, because he is tapping the phone. Anurag and the gang head for the college as well.
And so does Konkona, because she shows up to talk to Sonakshi’s family. And she now has the support of the police commissioner, having presented a detailed report proving that Anurag and company stole money, killed a guy, were blackmailed by a prostitute, killed her too, followed the trail to the college, grabbed Sonakshi by accident, had Sonakshi committed to cover up what they did, and now are trying to find her and kill her.
Anurag and company find Sonakshi first. And, heartbreakingly, they shoot Rani down before she can call out a warning. Sonakshi is hiding out in the old church on the school grounds. There is a huge obvious crucifix in the background. Anurag and the gang have her trapped, with guns on her. And Anurag pulls out a big knife, a kind of butchery flat square knife. He says, all they have to do is chop off the hand of the cop who was held captive. And then the other cop can shoot Sonakshi in “self-defense”. And the poor captive cop has finally had enough! He points out that Anurag never does anything, he always makes them do the dirty work, why doesn’t he shoot someone? Why doesn’t he have his hand chopped off? And Anurag shoots him. All the other men take a moment, and I have a brief thought that they are going to rebel. But now, Anurag has them so beaten down even this doesn’t make them break free. Instead, they just listen while Anurag starts to lay out the new plan. Sonakshi grabbed his gun and shot the cop. Then, one of the other cops would have shot her. Anurag is arranging them all in proper positions, and I am waiting for Sonakshi to suddenly rescue herself, or for Rani to not really be dead, or anything like that, when Konkona comes in!
Looking very Goddess like, huge pregnant belly, surrounded by cops with guns drawn, ready to fix everything. Sonakshi runs to her and Konkona tells her that she knows everything. That Anurag will be arrested and Sonakshi’s family will learn the truth and Konkona will fix it all. Yaaaay! Happy ending!!!!
Except not. The police commissioner calls to explain that they have finally tracked down the accident victim who set this whole thing going. He is the brother of a leading political leader. He was bringing the money for a big celebration. If the truth comes out now, that “celebration”, with thousands of people coming in for it, will turn into a riot against the police. The city will burn. And the only thing to save the innocent lives of the riot victims is if they cover it all up right now. Konkona hesitates, and then says that the reporters are already there, she can’t just cover it up. The police commissioner takes a moment, then asks for her to hand the phone to Anurag.
Anurag takes it, all confident that things will work out for him again. As they have. The commissioner needs him to use his male ability to lie and convince people to believe him, to take charge of the situation and provide a good explanation. And Konkona tries to explain to Sonakshi. That it’s only for a month, until things calm down. Anurag will be investigated and arrested for something else. Sonakshi will be given “compensation” if she just quietly goes off and is “insane” for a while longer. Sonakshi stares at her in disbelief and points out that her friend is lying dead outside the door!
I am so glad that this is what Sonakshi can’t get over. The death of her friend, the mentally ill Hijra. The lowest of societies low. The one who everyone else beats down on and ignores. That is the worst of their crimes, to kill her without even thinking, and for even the “honest cop” Konkona to forget her death.
Or does she? Konkona tells Sonakshi one more time that “there is nothing we can do for you.” And walks out with her team. As they walk away, one of the team says that they should have grabbed the weapons, and Konkona waves them off. And then pauses, and waits for just a second, and there is a scream from inside. In a few smooth moves, Sonakshi has grabbed that huge knife, sliced through the femoral artery in Anurag’s leg and, while he’s still screaming, neatly sliced through the other two remaining cops as well. By the time Konkona’s team has gotten back into the room, shortly followed by the asylum keepers, all three of them are dead and Sonakshi is sitting down. She hears in voiceover the threat against innocent women and children if the truth comes out. And she pulls up her sleeve and pats on the healing scars from the other drug injections, ready for them to give it to her again, while Christ on the cross dominates the screen behind her.
(I know this is completely inappropriate, but it’s what I always think of when I see a crucifix in an Indian movie)
Just in case we didn’t get it, Sonakshi is stumbling out over to the ambulance, when the kids from the deaf and mute skill spot her. Oh right, at some point in the first half before it all went wrong, she was invited to give a speech to the college. The bully pulled the sound, just to be mean, so instead Sonakshi walked down and made her speech in sign language just to the kids from the hearing impaired school. So, all the kids recognize her and father round now and sign a question to her. She signs back (Sonakshi does a great job signing like she is drugged. A little less clean and a little wobbly in gestures). Konkona looks a question at the sign language teacher who translates “They asked her why her palms were bloody. And she said it is because she has crucified herself.”
And then Sonakshi is taken away. Konkona voice overs that she did get out in a month, and she left the city never to return, having learned there was no one she could rely on but herself. And then we get just a glimpse of Sonakshi teaching a class of kids outside, seemingly in a little village school. Followed by a glimpse of her riding on a motorcycle, maybe with Amit? And, THE END
Well, huh! Happy ending after all! Sort of! I mean, the lesson is that society is terrible and you can’t trust anyone, even your own family. And that those who are “different” will be forced to suffer so that those of us who are “normal” can lead happy lives, whether that is Sonakshi removing herself from her brother’s family, or pretending insanity so that the innocent women and children of the city can be safe.
But, on the other hand, Sonakshi did survive and get out of the asylum. It could have easily ended with her still in there. Although, I’m still not sure about Amit as a really happy ending. He didn’t really do anything for her, did he? And we didn’t even get a sense of them making a connection. Really, just one love song in there would have sold me on him as part of her happy ending.