Friday, February 4, 2011

#51: Yeh Saali Zindagi

It's a credit to the marketing team of a movie with no big stars when it goes housefull on a Friday night. The promotions, as is the custom, began with the first look of the film in the theaters and Yeh Saali Zindagi did really well on that count. When I first saw a doddering Irrfan Khan saying, "Log sunenge toh kya kahenge, aashiqui mein chootiya mar bhi gaya aur laundiya bhi nahi mili' towards the end of the promo, I ended up sending a flurry of messages to friends proclaiming YSZ as the next big one to look out for. There must've been many people in the same theater passing this on as YSZ filled its seats for a 9:45 p.m. show at 8:30 p.m. on the opening Friday night and the 10:55 p.m. show that I eventually ended up going for also went housefull. In the week before the movie you could also see enough promotions in the city and this momentum will ensure that a low budget movie like YSZ would recover it's cost. In that much, you would have to say that it's a smart business decision to make a movie like this and back it up with enough marketing muscle.

YSZ begins with a brisk introduction of it's characters going about their daily lives. So we have hustler Arun (Irrfan Khan), small-time criminal Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), his wife of 8 years and mother to his child Shanti (Aditi Rao) and bar singer Priti (Chitrangada Singh). No sooner have the leading cast members settled, that practically in the same breath, you are also introduced to Arun's boss Mehta (Saurabh Shukla), dishonest cop (Sushant Singh) trying to strike a deal with two hardened criminals Bade (Yashpal Sharma) and Chotte (Prashant Narayanan). With this introduction, we know that Sudhir Mishra's handpicked sturdy cast is not going to disappoint you. The problem is, from here on he just tries too hard to extract something meaningful out of a story that's more convoluted than a bowl of fusili. The good thing about fusili though is that if it's made well, it makes for a great meal. YSZ, on the other hand is disappointingly unappetizing.

The story is essentially about Arun and his unwavering attraction towards Priti. This central thread spins across the other sub-plots of Kuldeep's one last big score before he hangs up his boots on his criminal past, Priti's relationship with Shyam (Vipul Sharma) who is about to be married to a rich politician's daughter and the rivalry between Bade and Chotte. Strangely while Irrfan is the lead character, his presence is barely noticeable in the first half as Sudhir Mishra takes his time to set up all the other stories simultaneously. In doing so, he ends up undermining each story's individual resolution in a weak denouement. What should've been a dynamite of a climax ends up being clumsily trite. But even in the build-up to the climax, a veteran of Sudhir Mishra's stature leaves quite a few gaping loopholes in the story. What he also leaves intact is Chitrangada Singh's perfect lipstick and makeup through the second half even after she's been beaten up by a hoodlum in the dust of Purani Dilli.

Irrfan Khan however, does nothing wrong. His quizzical and helpless expressions towards the second half is stuff budding actors aspire for in their training classes. His dilemma about saving a girl's life who might not be his, makes for the one interesting thing in the movie that you look forward to. While Chitrangada Singh is her natural smoldering self, something about her acting suggests she's not in top form. Debutante Aditi Rao ( I know she was there in Dilli 6 but that's how the opening credits went) is a breath of fresh air with her looks but she's got little else to do apart from some frantic making out with Arunoday Singh who is just about passable. The music surely is a winner though. That coupled with some smart dialogues from Manu Rishi and Sudhir Mishra make the on-screen action fall in the ballpark of what could count as bearable viewing.

From the way it began, YSZ promised a lot. It could've been the strong Indian version of Fargo where a mock kidnapping goes wrong or a more popular variant of our own Sankat City. Instead, it becomes a potpourri with so many ingredients, you're left with no flavor that would tastefully linger after the movie.

Rating: 4.6/10