THE BURNING TRAIL
In Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988), two FBI agents with diametrically opposed ways of functioning arrive in a small town in the American South to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists. In Priyadarshan’s Aakrosh, two members of a CBI team with diametrically opposed ways of functioning arrive in a small town in north India to investigate the disappearance of three college students. It doesn’t end there: the narrative, characters, even scenes are happily plucked from Parker’s film and planted in Priyan’s.
All of this might be palatable if one could count it as a decent adaptation of a classic. But while Mississippi Burning managed to be both a taut policier and a passionate race relations drama, Aakrosh doesn’t quite swing it on either count.
Which is sad, because the prolific Priyan’s return to ‘issue-based’ Hindi cinema — for the first time since Virasat (1997) — has enough going for it. S Tirru’s cinematography is often impressive, with some superb action set-pieces that are clearly the director’s pride and joy (including a nice Mirch Masala tribute). The underrated Akshaye Khanna as a watchful, bespectacled CBI agent (who plays hard, but by the rules) is a perfect foil to Ajay Devgn as the hot-headed officer sent to assist him, while Paresh Rawal plays nasty cop with a carefully calibrated mix of nonchalance and menace. And they all get some decent lines.
But as one issue bleeds into another — ‘honour’ killings, police impunity, Dalit oppression, a trishul-wielding Hindu sena whose only raison d’etre is that Mississippi Burning had a Ku Klux Klan — it becomes hard to feel anything. And the more violence the evil thugs wreak on their supremely hapless victims, the greater the disconnect.
There is also the small matter of Bipasha Basu, (hapless) wife of (evil) Rawal, who is just stunningly wrong, whether glumly dusting her tasteful furniture in discreet handloom sari and just-blow-dried hair, or mouthing lines utterly beyond her ken (“Jamuniya, tohre nain kahe bheegat hain?”).
The honour killings, never much more than a peg for some solid masala, are sadly sidelined. But hey, we do get to watch the effortlessly intense Mr Devgn squeeze under a moving train, propel himself along an electricity wire with his belt and steer a whole jungle car chase atop a moving Innova. I’m a fan.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 43, Dated October 30, 2010