If being a law enforcer in the land of gun-toting mafiosos and other powerful sharks of the concrete jungle is a thankless job, then making another cop film in the 'Land of the Bland' (read Bollywood) is even more thankless.
That a debutant director chooses to go into this weatherworn territory without the fear of audiences simply yawning into the face of his sanguinary tale is indeed a matter of great pride for Sanjay Upadhyay.
He has chosen a subject - lone cop fights the mysterious and murky 'system' - that has been done to bludgeoning death by filmmakers as disparate in time and space as Prakash Mehra in "Zanjeer" and E. Niwas in "Shool". Still Upadhyay has put together a narrative so rigorously researched and so feelingly fictionalised that it manages to remain a step ahead of the audience.
The chaotic cornucopia of cops films follow a uniform code in more ways than one. From "Kagaar" and "Khakee" to "Dev" and Ab Tak Chappan"... all the films about tough guys in khaki which have emerged from Bollywood in the last year have followed a similar bloodied and bristling path.
But television director Sanjay Upadhyay's first feature film still has the power to take you by surprise. Though it comes in the wake up of innumerable other wak1e-up calls on the law and order situation, it is nonetheless gritty and gripping enough to shock you with its heady mix of polemics and street-wise encounters. The cops pant after sleazy criminals while bystanders just stop and stare in stunned surprise.
By shooting on locations and taking the drama out of stuffy studios, Upadhyay wins half the battle. The other half is won by a directorial conviction that is determined to avoid the pitfalls and clichés inherent in the cops genre.
This inside-story of Maharashtra's law enforcement agencies working against all odds to eliminate the underworld's domination, is a first-rate thriller as well as a disturbing human story about how a callow new recruit to the police force Jayant Barve (debutant Manish Singh) gets swallowed up by the morass of corruption all around him.
Upadhyay has the courage to slacken his breakneck narrative for longish debates on the politics of corruption in our society.
The dialogues, written by the director, make their hard-hitting point without getting fashionably abusive. In fact the overall avoidance of overt crudity even while portraying the crudest creases in the collage of social corruption takes you by surprise. Just as the film's polished look and mood -- unabashedly inspired by the Ram Gopal Varma school of expression -- but still distinctive and effective in its own right.
Dhananjay Kulkarni's photography is gritty and nourishing. And the editing (Omkar Bhakri) eaves no elbow space for humbug, except the songs which come on at strategic intervals. Surprisingly Aadesh Shrivastava's tunes don't really annoy us as much they should have. Shrivastava's background score is stunning, though a wee overstressed at times.
At the end of the day, it's the way that Upadhyay throws forward ideas on corruption in a compromised bureaucracy that keeps us riveted. Especially remarkable is the rooftop dialogue between Jayant and his trade-unionist friend Alex (who's eventually killed).
Here, as well as in other passionately worded pockets of discourse ("If you're running away from corruption then you can't because it's a way of life," his senior warns the protagonist), the narrative throws thought-provoking ideas on the quality of life that we accept as 'normal', without turning sermonistic or - God forbid! - hysterical.
The performances are uniformly apt. Shinde replicating the 'encounter specialist' that Nana Patekar played in "Ab Tak Chappan" is a deadly combination of desperation and dementia while newcomer Manish Singh as the new recruit grappling with deep-rooted issues of ethics is suitably callow and gauche. One is reminded of how powerfully Nakul Vaid did the same role in "Ab Tak Chappan".
Working against several odds (a visibly limited budget, for one) Sanjay Upadhyay weaves his tale of moral conflict beyond the one we see flashing by before our eyes.
It's not easy to make a cops film at a time when audiences have turned away from the genre. The debutant director forces us to watch. We just can't wave this one away.