It’s been a few years now since I first saw this film and looking back on it, it is STILL a great movie!!!!! Tightly edited, fast paced, clear, moral, just great. You should all watch it on einthusan (or Hotstar if you are rich).
This movie was GREAT! Finally, a film I completely totally enjoyed in the theater. And in a packed theater too! All the stadium seating was sold out and some of the floor seats. I am sure everyone loved it as much as I did, because how could they not?
Lived up to my (fairly high) expectations. Ajay was great, dialogue was great, supporting cast was really great, directing and editing and script and all those other parts of the film, perfection.
It was the perfect mixture of realism and lack of realism. There were no over the top heroics, no over the top villainy either. Houses look like houses, apartments look like apartments.
The only thing that feels “filmi” is Ajay Devgn who CLEARLY was not willing to alter his look at all for his role. Subtle highlights, super fitted shirts, crazy muscular body, none of it really fitting with the “dedicated public servant of the 1980s” idea. But that’s fine, because the film needs a hero. We have to have one strong perfect central figure to say the one-liners and be generally awesome. And Ajay does the job just right, he is heroic but in a lowkey way, not completely wrong for the rest of the film.
Ajay is the necessary center, but it is the cast surrounding him that really makes the movie soar. Saurabh Shukla, one of those actors who I immediately recognized and wasn’t even sure from where. Sheeba Chabba who, as always, was effortlessly amazing. Amit Sial who started out uninteresting and slowly became the most interesting character of them all. And Pushpa Joshi, 85 years old and in her first movie, and steals the whole thing.
Most of all though it is the story and the direction. The scriptwriter, Ritesh Shah, might be the secret weapon of the Hindi industry? He wrote Kahaana, Pink, D-Day, Citylights, and this. Along with some other remakes and dialogue for hire stuff. But the other movies and this one, he did the whole thing, story screenplay and dialogues. And they are all BRILLIANT. Story, screenplay, and dialogue. I think I might want to watch more Ritesh Shah movies than anyone else involved in this.
And then there’s the director, Raj Kumar Gupta. I was wondering why he made this small tight movie after No One Killed Jessica, why not something more ambitious? But I forgot that between No One Killed Jessica and this was Ghanchakkar. A terrible disaster which put his career almost back to square 1.
I am sure that was a bit depressing for Raj Kumar Gupta, moving all the way back to a small script written by someone else and a tiny budget, but it was a huge bonus for the audience! We get a brilliant perfect script, and an experienced talented director, coming together with an extremely skilled actor/star who is going on his own journey of redemption (Shivaay was really not good).
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Whole plot in one paragraph:
As promised by the trailer, Ajay Devgn is a tax official who raids the house of the most powerful and wealthy man in the area, Saurabh Shukla. There is minimal set-up before the raid, we learn that Ajay has been getting information from an anonymous source about hidden wealth, he keeps it all secret even from his staff because he (correctly) doesn’t trust them. Amit Sail, his chief assistant, is an informer for the wealthy men in the area. The dozen or so tax officials are locked in the house with the family and a protective police force, and two leading men of the area as witnesses, for as long as it takes to completely search the house. The first search is unsuccessful and Saurabh promises to have Ajay fired, confident he won’t find anything. But then Ajay receives a map of the house, realizing his informer is in the house with him, and finally learns where the money is hiding, within false walls of the very house they are in. Ajay quickly begins knocking own walls and going through trap doors and finding enormous wealth. Saurabh is sincerely shocked, he had no idea his family members were stupid enough to steal from him and hide the wealth within the house, thus his early confidence. Saurabh, now furious at both his family and Ajay, demands to be let go and Ajay allows him to leave. Saurabh tries to use his political connections, finally reaching all the way to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Indira calls Ajay within the house and asks him to call off the raid, Ajay asks for written orders, and Indira backs down. Saurabh then sends goons after Ajay’s wife Illeana. Ajay and his team have now been inside the house for more than two days, struggling to itemize all the wealth they are finding. Saurabh returns, now ready to end this by any means necessary, and calls on the villagers who rely on his wealth for their livelihood to come defend him. The mob storms the house, Ajay sends the police officers and his team out through the back way, fighting to protect their escape, then returns to the house himself to draw the mob away from his team. He locks himself in a room and prepares to die, when suddenly a riot squad appears to rescue him. And we see Indira one last time, asking her assistant if the riot squad arrived in time, if everyone was saved. And we finally learn who the informant was, Saurabh’s new daughter-in-law and her boyfriend. She was married against her will and wanted revenge on her in-laws. And finally we see Ajay and Illeana, leaving as he has been transferred again, and saying good-bye to his team.
The most unusual thing about this movie is that it manages to be thrilling without being stressful. I am never actually worried for Ajay, or the other “good guys”. There are no edge of your seat thrills. There aren’t even big stakes, the “best” that will happen is a large amount of money being recovered for the revenue department. And the “worst” that will happen is Ajay will lose his job. Even when the mob storms the house, Ajay could have easily escaped with the rest of his team and chose to stay back, it wasn’t a danger inherent in his job. And even that small moment of real danger is treated in the least stressful manner possible. Ajay doesn’t fight back or have narrow escapes, he just sits down and accepts his fate. It’s sad, but not scary.
(This song plays as he looks at a photo of his wife and hides from the mob. Sad!)
You keep watching for the clever little moments, for the characters, for the dialogue, not because the filmmaker is tricking you into watching against your will, keeping you in suspense so you HAVE to see how it ends even if you don’t enjoy the experience of watching. Like, when Ajay is searching the house, he has already found a horde of money, that stress is over, but Saurabh Shukla is so angry he threatens him with a shotgun, accidentally setting it off and blowing a hole in the ceiling, letting down a rain of gold ingots. It’s not that it is a surprise that money is hidden, or a relief that now Ajay won’t lose his job, we already had that. It’s that it’s just plain funny to see angry ranting Saurabh Shukla be surprised by this rain of ingots, and it’s just plain beautiful to see all of them streaming down from the sky as their characters look up in shock.
The structure of the raid is also smart in how it allows for all these little surprises. It slowly becomes clear that each relative was stealing on their own and hiding their own hordes. Saurabh was too smart for this, he made all the money and hide it in Swiss bank accounts. But his relatives were stealing from him and hiding the money in gold and cash around the house. Which means that everything Ajay discovers is a surprise not just to his team but to all but the one member of the family who hide that particular cache. And every hiding place is slightly different, one relative put it in the ceiling, another in a false wall, and so and so forth.
There’s also the lowstakes character changes to watch for. My favorite is Amit Sail. He is the one who doubts Ajay’s abilities when Ajay first arrives at his new posting. He is the one we see reassuring the wealthy men of the area through their agent that he will alert them before any major raid. He is the one who makes late night phone calls to every potential target the night before the raid. He is the one who tries to reassure Saurabh that he is still “his man” even during the raid. But then he can’t help but get excited when they make discovery after discovery. The spirit moves through the whole team, an eagerness to record every find, to find ever more. And by the end, he is ready to stay back with Ajay, or instead of Ajay, to make sure their findings aren’t lost.
There’s a bigger meaning to Amit’s character, which ties back to the big theme of the film. You don’t have to reform the whole country, you don’t even have to change anything, you just have to sincerely follow the rules that are already in place and you will inspire others to do the same. Ajay never ever breaks the rules. And the rules are there to protect everybody, paying taxes helps support the economy, is a sign that everyone is equal and equally powerless in the face of The State, the rules are there for a reason. And the way Ajay lives teaches others that it is possible to live within the rules and still have a happy life, and that there is value and dignity in believing in them.
Which brings me to Indira Gandhi! Her “character” is handled shockingly well. First, we never see her face, just hear her voice, see the back of her distinctive hair, and her hand fiddling with a pen. She meets with Saurabh, he is corrupt and horrible and he is part of her party. She avoids him as long as possible, only agreeing to meet when he points out that he holds a lot of votes and she needs him to maintain her majority in his state. And she only agrees to call Ajay and try to stop him after Saurabh suggests that the reveal of his corruption could lead to damaging the reputation of the whole party. Most of all, the entire time they are meeting she is flipping through a note book, looking at papers.
This is not a woman being manipulated by Saurabh, or even a woman who particular cares about Saurabh’s corruption, good or bad. This is a deeply pragmatic woman. She wants her party to stay in power, and if Saurabh’s issue might effect that, she will give 5 minutes to it. But she won’t order Ajay off completely, merely suggested that he call off the raid and look at “researching other legal options”. And when Ajay (respectfully) suggests that she issue this order in writing, she calmly rescinds. Saurabh being raided by tax authorities may embarrass the party, but a paper trail over a cover up would be worse, so she will take the smaller hit.
(It really is distinctive hair. How have I not noticed this before?)
Indira’s character, in her own way, is following the “rules”. She is not emotional, she is not impulsive, she is considering all limitations of her powers. Okay, I know that sounds like a weird thing to say about Indira Gandhi, but it does kind of make sense. She was about using the Constitution, finding an obscure option like “State of Emergency” when she needed it. Following all the standard procedures and organizing a perfect massive military invasion of a religious site. Her methods were precise and powerful, even if her motives were very questionable.
And it is both sides that we see from the ending. This is still a deeply pragmatic woman, but in her pragmatism, she wants her government officials to be safe and the rule of law to be upheld. And in her intellect, she was able to remember this small story was happening and keep track of it, just like she was keeping track of dozens of other issues while she was talking with Saurabh and flipping through papers.
What connects Indira Gandhi to Ajay Devgn and even Amit Sail, all the way down at the bottom, is that they base their life on the rules. They may break them, they may pick and choose which ones to follow, but they acknowledge they exist, that they are an important part of a functioning society. It is Saurabh Shukla who doesn’t even acknowledge them, laughs at the idea of a tax raid rather than being angered by it. And he allies with the others who don’t believe in the rules, the mob. The mob who cannot understand the bigger picture of society, how tax law interacts with social services and everything else, who enjoy the anarchy of blindly following one illiterate leader.
So, yeah, it’s a pro-Congress movie. But in an intelligent way. Really! You should see it.