Well, this is a movie that is very angry at authority figures! I can get behind that. The specifics of the message are maybe a little out of date, the GodMan is no longer as powerful in India as GodMob, but the general idea that blind trust in what you are told is bad, that’s a timeless message.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Alia is an heiress, whose father and stepmother are trapped in not-Osho. Her mother died two years ago and she suspects not-Rajneesh was involved. She runs an anti-cult group and is waiting to turn 21 when she will come into her inheritance and can cut the money funnel off from not-Osho. She hires Sanjay, depressed after the death of Pooja, to drive her to Kailash (mountain sacred to Shiva) to celebrate her birthday. First they pick up Aditya Roy Kapur, her boyfriend who is in jail. She explains that they met through her anti-cult group, and he went with her one night to meet a witness against not-Rajneesh. But it was a trap, assassins were waiting to kill her, ARK fought them off and killed them. He was arrested and put in jail for 3 months. ARK and Sanjay don’t like each other on sight. ARK convinces Alia to fire Sanjay and use one of his friends instead. But the friend has turned them over to the cult, Sanjay sees them captured and rescues them. That night, ARK tells Alia the truth, he was sent by the cult to kill her. He was a failed musician and drug addict who the cult rescued and cared for, he loved not-Rajneesh and hated Alia for attacking him. He snuck his way into her group, but started to listen and understand what she was saying. He really saved her life, going against the cult to do it, because he really loves her. Sanjay encourages Alia to forgive ARK. But Sanjay still isn’t sure he should be helping them. He calls Alia’s father Jisshu Sengupta who Alia claims is innocent and trapped in the cult and arranges to meet him and only him and hand over Alia, at a guest house run by Sanjay’s old friend.
TWIST! Jisshu hangs up the phone and immediately calls not-Rajneesh to tell him all about it. He is overheard by Alia’s aunt turned stepmother who comes into his room and has a passionate confession. She is tormented by guilt, she loves not-Rajneesh but she is so unhappy about what she has done, helping Jisshu kill his wife and then marrying him, and then driving Alia away. She wants them to stop, she want them to save because she loves her. Jisshu laughs at her and reveals his true evil, all he wants is money and power. Not-Rajneesh was a means to an end, not-Rajneesh and he were working together to get his wife’s money all along. And now they will use not-Rajneesh’s followers to kill Alia so he can have everything. Alia and ARK and Sanjay arrive at the meeting and Sanjay senses something is wrong and gives ARK a gun. Sure enough, his friend is tied up and not-Rajneesh’s goons are there. Big fight, and at the end one of the goons’ phones rings and Alia picks up and hears her father, realizing he was behind it all along. Alia decides she won’t stop, she will take down her father and not-Rajneesh at all costs. Meanwhile her father has pivoted, he needs a new “villain” for the story now that Alia’s aunt/stepmother is dead, so he tells a story of lowly taxi driver Sanjay and evil handsome young man ARK kidnapping his daughter, killing people sent to rescue her, and no probably killing her. Sanjay laughs when he sees this on the TV, and then comforts Alia and gives her birthday cake, which is drugged. He leaves ARK and Alia behind in safety and goes to confront Jisshu and not-Rajneesh alone. He defeats them all, finally killing Jisshu with a trident of Shiva, and then having a vision of light and hearing Pooja’s voice calling for him, finally going to her and being at peace. In the epilogue, Alia gives a press conference calling out her father for his sins, and asking people to question all GodMan, and declaring that Sanjay is her “real” father. She and ARK go to Kailash and scatter Sanjay’s ashes.
The best part of this plot, the most resonant interesting part, is the idea of Alia and Sanjay randomly finding each other. He isn’t part of her story, he is a wild card. There is her father, there is her lover, there is the villain. And then there is the taxi driver she hired who isn’t supposed to be anything in the story, and yet somehow he is. The overlooked one, the forgotten one, the seen-but-not-heard one, turns out to be the one who changes everything.
This is what it was in Sadak 1 a little bit. This is why Sanjay is still a taxi driver. They go everywhere, they see everything, but they aren’t considered as people. Sanjay himself doesn’t consider himself an important person, he’s just a driver. But even an unimportant person can still care, can still want to fight injustice when he sees it, can end up changing everything.
In this case Sanjay being “just” a taxi driver has an added importance because it means Alia remains as the hero of her story, where she should be. Her character has all the power in this film. She is the one who will run the empire and have all the money as soon as she turns 21, she is already the one making an impact with the anti-cult group she has fearlessly founded, she is the one who makes all the plans and puts herself in danger. This is not a “damsel in distress”, this is a Hero going out and fighting for what is right. If Sanjay had been, I don’t know, wealthy head of a bodyguard agency, or ex-hero soldier, or something like that, then it would become his story not hers. But no, he is a taxi driver and a decent person. That’s it. He wouldn’t have done any of this if Alia hadn’t inspired him.
There’s a second part of the plot that would be the most interesting if Sanjay’s performance hand’t made the Sanjay-Alia bit so cool. That is the overriding message that “authority” should not be blindly trusted. There’s the Godman aspect of course, not-Rajneesh who convinces his followers that only he can see and speak the Truth. It is also slowly revealed that one of Rajneesh’s followers is a police officer, similarly blindly trusted. There is a brief plot point of Alia being sedated and wrongfully put in an asylum, doctors can’t be trusted either. And then the twist, that Alia’s father is after her. Even cynical Sanjay trusts her father, thinks she will be safe with him because parents are the ultimate authority. But no, father’s are no good either. This is a counter-culture anti-authority film in the best tradition, one that doesn’t make the message obvious, just encourages you to think outside the box and trust no one. This is, of course, why people don’t like the Bhatts. The GodMob doesn’t want folks to think for themselves, no no no, just believe what they are saying over and over and go with the Mob.
To my mind, there is one big flaw with the film that cuts through both levels, the Sanjay-Alia surprising relationship part and the “trust no one blindly” message. ARK should not be trusted. It doesn’t even fully hold up, if he knew his friend was part of the cult, why did he arrange for him to meet them leading to their capture? Why was he so untrusting of Sanjay and trying to isolate Alia and get her alone? Why was he kind of sulky and bitter until she went his way right up until the end. Also, why did we get so little backstory on him? We learn he was a drug addict/failed musician, but not who his family was or anything like that.
I am going to guess that in an earlier version of the script, ARK was untrustworthy straight through. He was playing Alia all along, it was intended to be revealed late in the film so that Alia would have to deal with the betrayal of her lover and her father, and surprisingly Sanjay would be her only support. Just the idea of young lovers eloping away from it all, and then surprise! The forgotten taxi driver ends up saving the young woman! That would be great, and we get a little taste of that with ARK trying to get rid of Sanjay because he senses that Sanjay is stopping him from isolating Alia, but then it goes away. Making ARK into a villain who preyed on a strong young woman’s soft heart, and showing how Alia overcame his betrayal and moved on, would be a great addition to the anti-traditional authority message, and fold neatly into the idea of “no one considers the taxi driver”.
As it is, the ARK storyline just feels weirdly boring and pointless. There’s nothing wrong with it exactly, ARK and Alia have decent chemistry and he does a good job with his performance, but it is disconnected from the rest of the film. Their love story doesn’t fit with the bigger meaning, and Alia and Sanjay’s connection is so much stronger than Alia-ARK’s.
Even with all the flaws, this is still a good movie. The Rajneesh stuff is handled very well, things like showing how the followers of these GodMen aren’t necessarily chanting on the streets or living in communes, they could be seemingly perfectly “normal” because the GodMen need those folks to keep making money and gaining power in the world and they do that by looking “normal”. And the idea of preying on weakness, Alia’s stepmother/aunt who was jealous of her successful sister, ARK’s drug addiction, they find the weakness and use it to gain control of the strengths (Alia’s stepmother/aunt’s connections and wealth, ARK’s talent and charm). And of course the total cynicism about how these GodMen really just want wealth, which feels superficial until you realize they are specific references to Rajneesh, a man long dead who STILL has people defending him and believing in his teachings all over the world.
The Alia-Sanjay connection is something special which resonates because it is getting at a bigger truth. Alia, smart rich confident, is still “weak” simply because she is a woman in Indian society. Her father can control her, no one will listen to her, she has to fight twice as hard for anything. Sanjay is a man, but he is working class, also “weak” in Indian society. They find their strength through coming together. Not in a love story, but in a human story. This is what humanity should be, those who are weak and less-than coming together to fight side by side against those in power, not to fight each other.