We remember Charles Sobhraj as a serial killer, but Prawaal Raman’s biopic (though it doesn’t actually call itself one, or use the name “Sobhraj”) Main Aur Charles isn’t very interested in murders and gore. It follows the time-tested Godfather or Don strategy of hinting at a bad side but focusing on the things that will make the character an attractive protagonist. A hero, even. Charles (an excellent Randeep Hooda) gets the kind of entry the leading man gets in a Tamil or Telugu masala blockbuster. First, the feet. Finally, the face. And there’s a reason. The film makes the case that Charles is a celebrity. He’s such a superstar by the time of his arrest in Goa that the lowly cop who caught him becomes something of a star himself. He soon finds himself regaling others with his how-I-caught-Charles stories during dinner at an upscale restaurant. He doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a reason he’s telling these stories. It’s the film’s delicious twist.
The centrepiece of Main Aur Charles is Sobhraj’s escape from Tihar jail, which is first-rate material for a thriller. Only, seeing the film, you wouldn’t know it for a while. For the longest time, we seem to be watching a real-life Maxim photo shoot, with woman after undressed woman falling for Charles’s charms. He was a smooth talker, a hypnotiser, a lady-killer in more ways than one. And he filled up voids in more ways than one. “I must say tumhari life kitni exciting hai,” coos a princess, dulled by the monotony of wealth and now intrigued by Charles’s (fake) plan to help a few dissenters. As for Mira (Richa Chadda, horribly miscast as a breathless innocent), she hates her very name. It’s too ordinary, she says. Charles makes her life so extraordinary that she goes on to argue, after being arrested as Charles’s accomplice, that he is the product of a dysfunctional family and a system that failed him. These women were a big part of Charles’s life, true – but Raman keeps hitting this point so insistently that we want to say: We get it. Can we move on to the jailbreak, please?
Another problem is the way the film is structured, edited. It’s a slick, Hollywood approach, with slivers of this event segueing into slivers of that one. (You could say Main Aur Charles tries to be as cool as it imagines Charles to be.) Some parts are confusing (just who are these foreigners with Charles, and why not tell us how they came to be with him?) and there’s no grip. It’s just one escapade after another. But after Charles’s arrest, which happens around midpoint, the film settles down and becomes a very watchable story about a very warped man. (Someone claims he ate a lizard in jail.) The seventies/eighties details are great fun. The Dyanora Solid State TVs. The club dancer with the plaited string across her forehead, singing Jab chaye tera jadoo. The wacka-chaka background music, from films like Don. In fact, Salim-Javed could have based their script on Charles instead of Chinatown. As the police here routinely discover, Charles ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai.
Even more fun is Adil Hussain, as Amod Kanth, the cop on Charles’s tail and the “main” of the title. His scenes with his wife (Tisca Chopra) are a quiet riot, especially when he finds her appearing a little too fascinated by Charles. You can hear him thinking, I can handle all these other women falling for him… but you too? But that’s the man Charles supposedly was, and we’re teased with hints about this enigma. After his arrest, a cop reads out names from his multiple passports and asks, “Tum ho kaun?” Charles replies, with a smile, “Sab.” Hooda’s smile never slips. It’s more of a smirk, as if he’s playing a game. He keeps clippings of newspaper stories about him, and when he finds one with an unflattering picture, he screams, “Press ko naye pictures bhej do.” Talk about star tantrums. An associate warns Charles that it’s just a matter of time before the cops catch up with them. Charles replies, smile intact, “Let’s see ow long zey take.” Ze accent comes from Charles’s French roots. Ze beret too. But he prefers German films, like Metropolis. It’s hard to fault a film for falling head over heels for such an international man of mystery.
- Main Aur Charles = Charles and I
- Don = the film that this film was a remake of
- “I must say tumhari life kitni exciting hai” = I must say your life is so exciting.
- Jab chaye tera jadoo = see here
- The wacka-chaka background music = see here
- Chinatown = see here
- Charles ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai = a riff on a famous line from Don
- “Tum ho kaun?” = Who are you?
- “Sab” = Everyone.
- “Press ko naye pictures bhej do” = Send new pictures to the press.
- Metropolis = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.