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Life or something like It

Yeh Saali Zindagi

Director Sudhir Mishra

Starring Irrfan Khan Chitrangda Singh Arunoday Singh

By Pragya Tiwari

Yeh Saali Zindagi is set in Delhi but somehow feels like a Bombay film. Perhaps it’s the world view of its central character Arun (Irrfan Khan) that smells like Bombay or the spirit of the film powered by director Sudhir Mishra’s own that mimics the experience of surviving that city. This is not to say that Mishra does not know his Delhi- sure he does, only he does not engage with it anymore. Not as much as he does with Bombay, in any case. The reason these conjectures about the director’s inner life are important is because his tone predominates this film. It is also the only reason to recommend it.

Yeh Saali Zindagi is a love story with another love story as its sub-plot-in-chief. Both these love stories are woven together by an intricate web of crime, corruption and chance. Mishra’s take is in how the story is served up – marinated in wryness with a hint of cynicism and insolence on the side.

The film speaks to us from the depths of the crime-comedy-caper genre, but it also has a slight identity of its own – delineated by inspired casting, Khan’s delightful delivery and Mishra’s stash of quirk. It is resolutely existential in its philosophy – so much so that you can imagine it squirming at the story’s proverbial happy ending. But while the seasoning is deliciously wicked, the meat itself is forgettable.

This is nowhere close to Mishra’s proven potential. The director’s craft is not as assured as his voice. The pace of the film is frenetic. Rapid twists and turns ensure you will keep your eyes on the story instead of looking for an early exit. But rollercoaster plotting is the writerly equivalent of jerky camera angles now made infamous by Ekta Kapoor’s signature tripe on TV. Neither can compensate for inherent drama, genuine conflict and charming characters. The film’s universe is hospitable but not enthralling – the massive cast of characters is interesting but not fascinating; their quandaries are plausible but not captivating. You could indulge this film but you would not want to indulge in it. In fact the film is a template for mediocrity.

But in Bollywood, mediocrity is not a bad word. Compared to the menu on offer you might be well advised to help yourself to this one. At the heart of this complexity lies the essential dilemma of poverty – when reasonable fare is so hard to come by, you are likely to be grateful for it. But that does not mean you no longer dream of wealth; of truly gratifying sensory experiences.

Originally published in Tehelka.

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