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 Ab Tak 56
Director :
Starring :
 Shimit Amin
 Nana Patekar, Yashpal Sharma, Nakul Vaid, Prasad Purandhare.

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

In one scene from "Ab Tak Chappan", the top cop in the lead role is shown talking to an underworld don with the contempt of familiarity while he dresses to go out shopping with his wife.

Cop Sadhu Agashe treats the gangster on the cell phone with a gritty casualness, even offering to let him say hello to the wife, who just rolls her eyes in that "boys-will-be-boys way" that all cops' wives adopt in Bollywood movies.

That stirring mix of everyday headlines and a treatment that's cinematic in the style of Steven Sodenberg or nearer home, Ritwik Ghatak, is what makes "Ab Tak Chappan" a svelte slice of creativity.

The film is based on the life of a Mumbai cop reputed to have killed scores of criminals in gun battles that some critics say were staged.

The film can be seen as a scrupulously documented story of the life of the special police squad of encounter specialists who reportedly have extra-constitutional authority to eliminate hardcore criminals the law cannot get to.

Being a film editor, debutant director Shimit Amin cuts his material like a knife. The first few killings are graphically delineated. The sounds of Hindi film songs and hubbub of everyday life lend normalcy to the "legal murders".

The encounter between Sadhu and the rookie cop Jatin (Nakul Vaid, who reprises Tusshar Kapoor's role from "Khakee") in a crowded apartment block is stunning.

But, then, haven't we seen such picturesquely casual slayings in scores of films, many from Ram Gopal Varma, already? That, in a nutshell, is the problem with this remarkably even-pitched chronicle of a hysterically violent circumstance.

We've seen a lot of the film's content in several underworld films, gangster epics and two recent encounter dramas ("Encounter" and "Kagaar").

The shock value of watching a legal eagle gunning down criminals in cold blood is considerably diminished by the deja vu factor.
What rescues the film from being just another mordant chronicle of the cop-underworld nexus is Amin's original and unsentimental take on the issue.

Nowhere does he judge the rights and wrongs of encounter killings. He allows the cops, with all their in-house bickering and jealousies, to do their jobs.

The absence of sentimentality is at times distracting. When the cop's wife is gunned down, we almost expect the tear ducts to be finally activated.

Except for the remarkably written (thanks to Sandeep Shrivastava) climactic confrontation between the cop and the don (inspired by Govind Nihalani's "Ardh Satya"), the landscape of mayhem is stripped of a maudlin mentality.

But you wish the director had allowed the relationship between Sadhu and the new recruit to be fleshed out with more feeling.

The guru-student bonding is restricted to sporadic scenes such as the brilliantly executed dinner where the rookie Jatin brings his fiancée to Sadhu's home, and a first day at work after Sadhu's wife's death when he tries to act his normal humorous, boorish self.

Nana Patekar carries off these and all the other episodes in his strangely violent character's life with the aggressive élan of a street fighter.

All the actor's innate violence is harnessed into a performance that is riveting and raw. As played by Patekar, Sadhu Agashe is neither a cynic nor a believer. Just a man who does the dirty job because there's no one else to do it.

Problems arise when the dirty job gets progressively murkier. In the second-half, "Ab Tak Chappan" sheds its documentary skin to assume a strikingly cinematic posture. The theory of poetic justice breaks into the saga of violence, cutting the edge out of the gritty no-nonsense tone of the first-half.

Sequences such as the one where Sadhu's colleague (Yashpal Sharma, typecast as a morally ambivalent establishment-guy) attempts to kill Sadhu in a fake encounter are so showily ingenious you wonder if they are the motivations behind making yet another film about cops and gangsters.

Some portions pay a powerful homage to "Ardh Satya". But the film neither surprises not stuns you. Rather, you watch Amin's storytelling acumen with a detached curiosity.

While Patekar's rugged performance smoothens out the audiences' discomfort of the familiar, there're other remarkable aspects to the story, like Salim-Sulaiman's background music that breaks into a sudden plaintive sarod strain on the cop's wife's death.

But you can't help comparing the score with Sandeep Chowta's absolutely brilliant work in Varma's "Company".

Cinematographer Vishal Sinha gives the film a totally different look from "Satya" or "Company", thereby averting the impending peril of "Ab Tak Chappan" being designated the third part of Varma's gangster trilogy.

And then there's Nakul Vaid as the rookie. Wide-eyed, idealistic hero-worshipping... we've seen the character before. We'll probably see it again, though not played in quite the same way. The same is true of the film too.

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More about Ab Tak 56
- Interview: Nana Patekar
- Interview: Ram Gopal Varma