Punjab isn’t having a good time at the movies. Last year’s Udta Punjab transformed the state into a drug-addled dystopia. This week’s Irada slaps on it the label of “cancer belt of the country.” Arshad Warsi isn’t having a good time at the movies either. Last week’s Jolly LLB 2 was a reminder of how, when it comes to casting, the actor’s sly charm and talent are no match for brute star power. And what’s worse than being booted from the sequel to your own film? Appearing in one whose only redeeming quality is its earnestness. Irada has one truly shocking stretch, where we see a “cancer train” transporting patients from Bhatinda to Bikaner for treatment, as vulturous insurance agents prey on their vulnerability. The rest of the film is an embarrassment.
Irada wears its budget on its sleeve, but the point isn’t the lack of dazzling craft. The story revolves around an investigation into a company poisoning the groundwater with chemicals, and the director, Aparnaa Singh, cannot decide whether to make a sprawling thriller or an Erin Brockovich-like crusader-drama. The good guys – the cop played by Warsi, the intrepid journalist played by Sagarika Ghatge, the bereaved father played by Naseeruddin Shah – are up against a corrupt politician (Divya Dutta) and an industrialist (Sharad Kelkar, who has real presence and makes you wonder why he doesn’t land better parts). The proceedings are so dull and desultory that even the big climatic twist barely produces a reaction. Irada leaves you with a renewed appreciation for burning-issue masala movies like Kaththi and Kodi, which, for all their flaws, at least remember to entertain.
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