By Subhash K Jha
So all right. You've been warned. You go to ZINDA expecting a film about violent responses to life's injustices. Sure enough, this fascinating flick-of-a-finger thriller is replete with graphic sequences of torture. But it isn't the physical stomach-churning violence (electric drills in the belly, teeth being plucked out with hammers) that holds your attention. It's the violence within. The violence and angst of a man wronged for what crimes… he doesn't know!
As the Kafkaesque hero trapped in a hellish existential imbroglio, Sanjay Dutt rips the screen apart. The lifelines on his face laugh at the very relevance of life. And yet the character he plays must live to find out why he was singled out for such inhuman isolation.
Sanjay Gupta has always been a master of existential dilemmas. His protagonist is always torn between the desire to assert his will and the inability to conform to given rules of civilized living.
Dutt's quest for self-justice in ZINDA is mired in violent conflicts. Yet at its heart this is an extremely emotional film about a man searching for his bearings in a world that has written off his life and dreams.
The films is photographed by Sanjay F. Gupta (not the director). A stylish spunky product of the rock-video generation of visual orgasms Gupta uses his chic lenses to capture Dutt's lacerated soul in stark close-ups.
"I don't want to come close to anyone because anything I love is lost to me," Dutt tells Lara in their longish bedroom encounter.
Kamlesh Pandey's acerbic lines, Sanjay Choudhary and Vishal-Shekhar's music fill large spaces of the snarled soundtrack, prodding the hero's fight for survival into positions of startling awakening.
The rest just flows in a furious combustive cascade of emotional and physical violence.
If the casting of Dutt as the Kafkaesque victim is a masterstroke, John Abraham as his mysterious adversary is also a revelation. Going beyond his looks, the director makes John peer unblinkingly into the bowels of vendetta.
It's a frightening combat between the wronged and the wrongdoer shot in the style of an anguished video game but lacking the sense of fun that adventure capers generally exude. Gupta's world is lonely and isolating. His hero is paralyzed by unhappiness and yet galvanized into action by his desire to 'know' the truth about his condition. In ferreting out this truth the director makes Dutt run and chase through claustrophobic streets of Bangkok in pursuit of enemies that defy shape and proportions.
Apart from the two adversaries, played with cool panache by the two heroes, there are very few characters in ZINDA. Lara Dutta as a Punjabi taxi-driver in Bangkok is so magnetic; you wonder why we don't see more of her.
But the film belongs to Sanjay Dutt, no two ways about it. The actor digs deep into his own troubled past - the incarceration, the search for the enemy, the pursuit of a long-lost daughter at the end, are all elements in his character that Dutt must have empathized with deeply.
No wonder his performance connects so wonderfully with the audiences in spite of the chilling ambience and the Quentin Tarantino-meets-Kafka texture of the narrative being so alien to audiences in India.
If the adventure-action genre in Hindi cinema needed a wake-up call, this is it.