By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The conscience is a precious commodity, especially in today's day and age when human aspirations have smothered finer values and reduced morality to a mockery.
Debutant director Bappaditya Roy's morality tale is an arresting ensemble piece. Set in an unscrupulous amoral business tycoon's living room, it aims for the onion effect. As layer after layer of guilt is peeled off we come face to face with the mirror image of a society that respects only money and success.
Adapting the stagey, moody dark and forbidding mood of Govind Nihalani's Party and Roman Palanski's Death and The Maiden, Roy gets considerable help from his ultra-competent cast in creating an ambience of retrospective stock-taking, as police inspector Vivek (Mammooty) cross- examines one member of the tycoon's family after another regarding the suicide of a hapless girl in a chawl.
Capitalist arrogance meets bourgeois angst in this little film about big complexes, all strung together in sequences that don't always cohere smoothly. The jerky jolting quality of the narrative gives the plot a quality of unpredictable investigation, so that we aren't only watching a family's life come apart at the seams. We are also looking at a well-crafted tale of crime and retribution.
There's a bit of Kafka and a bit of Nihalani in Bappaditya Roy's simmering yet calm vision. To his credit he doesn't let the anger of indignation overpower the narration. Controlled and calm, the film moves forward with minimum fuss, as character after character is devastated in the course of one night's soul-searching.
The flashbacks about the dead girl's past cut into the placid drawing-room setting like welters of lightning on a cloud-laden night. By the end of it all, we are compelled to look inwards for answers on social inequality that have plagued our system of governance for years.
Not that Sau Jooth Ek Sach (what an awful title!) really aims or succeeds in being anything more than an interesting though incomplete exploration of a guilty festering value system. The editing is intermittently choppy and the dialogues tend to get shrill in their self-righteousness.
But there are interesting performances, particularly by Neha Dhupia as the body-phobic daughter of the business family who finds her bearings before the night is through. Joy Sengupta, always a joy to behold (remember him as Jaya Bachchan's son in Govind Nihalani's Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa?) epitomizes the theme of guilt and redemption more aptly than any other member of the cast.
Vikram Gokhale looks fine as the arrogant tycoon. But his performance loses its edge the minute he opens his mouth to let lose a volley of vernacular English dialogues. Mammootty's comeback is disappointingly low-key. As the plot's conscience -keeper he seems to be standing above the troubled subject looking into a crisis that's not really his.
Bappaditya Roy speaks: "I am consumed by the theme of introspection. Sau Jhooth Ek Sach is inspired by a 1946 play An Inspector Calls by Jimmy Presley which was set during the Great American depression. I've contemporized the theme, brought in episodes from recent headlines concerning the rich and the famous, including Rahul Nanda's hit-and-run case involving a BMW. The film is getting a Mumbai-only release this Friday. It opens elsewhere on 23 September. I'm happy with what I've to say in Ek Jhooth…Matters of the conscience fascinate and trouble me. I firmly believe, the harder you try to run away from your conscience the more it will chase you. That is also the theme of my next ready-for-release Ek Din Anjaane Mein featuring Mammootty again, with Raveena Tandon and Rinke Khanna. Whereas Sau Jhooth Ek Sach is more stagey and cerebral I'd say Ek Din Anjaane Mein is more massy. I hope to strike the right balance between what audiences want and what I want to give them."