I may be a little off here in terms of the exact number, but in Rensil D’Silva’s Ungli, we have the 6784-th filmic instance of a hapless senior citizen camped out at a pension office while corrupt clerks refuse to look at his file unless he slips them some money. Is the situation snatched from reality? Sure. Is it terrible? Does it deserve to be showcased? Undoubtedly. But is it also, by now, a cliché on screen? Absolutely. How, then, to depict issues such as this – along with the corruption of the police, and political hooliganism – without making it seem like we’ve seen it all a thousand times before? The director Shankar’s solution is to make quasi-superhero movies and blind you with bling. But D’Silva likes to operate at a lower register, and he just cannot figure out a tone that works. Despite the breathtakingly moody cinematography by Hemant Chaturvedi, the film is hardly… there.
The story focuses on a gang of four (Kangana Ranaut, Randeep Hooda, Angad Bedi, Neil Bhoopalam) who don ski masks and take to vigilante justice. They target the corrupt and mete out imaginative punishments – imagine Se7en, but without the sadism and with a couple of training montages. (Hey, vigilantes need to keep up their fitness levels too.) Emraan Hashmi is in there somewhere – and yes, he snags a kissing scene. Sanjay Dutt is in there somewhere – he’s named Kale just so that someone can play on that name in a line that goes, “Agar aap ‘kale’ hain to woh bhi dilwale hain.” The Mehmood reference feels real odd in this movie, which strives to be cool, stylish and doesn’t want to get its hands dirty with anything as messy as emotion. (The other dialogues are equally bad, including one where the phrase “house of cards” is translated into “taash ke patton ka ghar.” Just reading that now makes me wince.) The relationships are barely worked out. (Wait till you see Neha Dhupia falling for Hooda one second after she’s looked at him as if he were something the dog did on her carpet.) The backstory that drives these vigilantes is bland. The convenient way in which the villains are looped back into the story after a long absence is downright laughable. And the treatment is way too facile for anyone to work up any angst – on and off screen.
I wished the vigilantes had been a younger lot. It may have been easier to empathise with them and their idiot idealism. And I wish D’Silva had been a better filmmaker. I kept thinking about how much juice Bejoy Nambiar infused into Shaitan, which was also the story of a gang of youngsters. Maybe a lot of that film was empty flash, but there was at least something to get the pulse racing – Ungli, on the other hand, feels as dead as its surroundings. We are supposed to believe that this vigilante movement has the nation gripped, but there hardly seem to be any people on screen and all the action seems to be taking place in a cavernous studio backlot. About the only thing that worked for me is the presence of Reema Lagoo, as Emraan Hashmi’s mother. The actress has an unfussy way of making us care about her characters, and her scene with Sanjay Dutt is one of the few times we get a sense of rooted emotion. The rest of it is just empty posturing.
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