Review: Ek Chalis Ki Last Local

Posted on May 19, 2007


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Noir collides with absurdity in a delicious – if overlong – black comedy.

MAY 20, 2007 – PAY ATTENTION to the credits sequence that opens (and sets the tone for) Ek Chalis Ki Last Local. Pay attention to the kings and queens and jacks on the faces of playing cards, to the guns, to the long legs perched on killer stiletto heels, to the rows of lamps on an empty street, to the silhouettes by a train compartment, to the great wads of cash, and most of all, pay attention to the way these images have been lit – as if the entire shooting was conducted in a low-voltage situation, resulting in your having to practically squint to see what’s up there on the screen. One reason for all this near-darkness is, of course, the late-hour setting of the film, which gets going when Nilesh (Abhay Deol, who continues his dream run after Socha Na Tha, Ahista Ahista and Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.) misses the transport of the title and has to, therefore, kill time till the first train of the morning. But there’s another reason: the twilight zone of the timeframe appears to allude as much to the stretch between darkness and sunrise as the space between the real and the imagined. (It’s very likely that Martin Scorsese’s surreal After Hours served as a jump-off point.) Ek Chalis is so out there in terms of what occurs – the highpoint of the inventively sustained absurdity may be a bit where Nilesh is held captive by a mobster and winds up counting the birthmarks on the latter’s back – you half expect our hero to wake up at the end of the film and realise it was all a dream.

I became intrigued by Ek Chalis because of a line in the promos: a voiceover in the middle of the beautiful Laree Chhoote number (by Xulfi, lead guitarist of the Pakistani rock band Call) that goes, “Last local kya chhooti, saala kismat patri par aa gayi.â€? No one talks like that in real life, but then the stylised talk of people in the noir films isn’t from real life either – and this line feels very much like what a desi John Garfield would have spat out in something titled Daakiya Ghanti Hamesha Do Baar Bajaata Hai. The noir influences on Ek Chalis are evident right from the time Nilesh is established as an unlucky patsy – he loses his jacket, misses his train, and when he sits down to wait for the next one, his hand settles on an icky wad of used chewing gum – and Neha Dhupia (as the enigmatic Madhu) gives off the unmistakable air of a world-weary femme fatale. These characters don’t stay entirely true to type – there’s a lot of boy-meets-girl cuteness throughout – but the endlessly quotable dialogue does. Walking on a desolate stretch of road, with Madhu by his side, Nilesh muses, “Halka sa nasha, bheegi si raat, khubsoorat saath… aur kya chahiye aadmi ko!â€? There’s a beauty of an existential throwaway in the form of “Duniya ka har bachcha aur lafda aurat hi paida karti hai,â€? but my favourite would be the sarcastic rejoinder by a customer in a bar who’s asked by the bartender what he wants. Clearly irritated by the apparent irrelevance of the question, he shoots back, “Ek VIP ki chhattees number ki chaddi de.â€?

And these noir elements get filtered through the stylings of Quentin Tarantino, who’s undoubtedly Dronacharya to (first-time) director Sanjay Khanduri’s Eklavya – and Khanduri is pretty unapologetic about the fact. He lets us on to this himself, with two explicit homages to Tarantino’s work – one that takes off on Mr. Blonde cutting off the policeman’s ear in Reservoir Dogs, and another based on Marcellus getting sodomised in Pulp Fiction with a squeeze toy stuffed in his mouth. Like Tarantino, Khanduri appears fascinated with pop-culture patter – nods to Nana Patekar, Ram Balram, DDLJ, and an action sequence that channels Super Star Rajinikanth (which you’ve got to see to believe) – spliced into a twisty narrative involving kidnapping, double-crosses, and lots and lots of killings. But as with its predecessors in spirit – the likes of Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin and Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2 – what happens or why isn’t as important as how. It’s the staging that counts, the freakish eccentricity in the details. It’s the over-the-hill singer in the seedy bar who comes off like Bindu on a bad makeup day, it’s the gambling room decorated with wall-high pictures of the gods Ayyappan and Venkateshwara, it’s the image of a man wiping an imaginary speck of dirt off the hood of his black Mercedes (at night!), it’s the hunt under the sofa for a gangster’s glass eye… Ek Chalis goes on for far too long and makes ill-advised detours into sentiment, but it’s extremely well shot and acted and put together, and it’s seen through by a terrific funk-rock background score. If you manage to catch its wavelength, it’s a larky scream.

Copyright ©2007 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi