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There are two ways in which regional cinema normally manifests; either the plot emanates from localized milieu or it takes up a universal theme and builds a regional context around it. Each style has its own glowing examples, be it Satyajit Ray from India, whose themes were rooted in localized culture or an Akira Kurosawa whose universal themes of heroism took Japanese cinema to western audiences. And then there are the third kinds, the disruptive ones, though made for regional audiences, they break every barrier of language and culture to generate entertainment for all alike. Chinese films of Bruce Lee and more recent one being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are great examples of such an export.
Mikhil Musale’s debut film in Gujarati ‘Wrong Side Raju’, knowingly or unknowingly, falls under the third category; the film is a vehicle that has the potential to disrupt the current upsurge in Gujarati Film Space, for the better. The films plot emanates from the urban theme of ‘Hit and Run’, yet manages to completely turn the concept upside down to give an absolutely thrilling piece of entertaining cinema, an experience that can cross barriers.
From the trailer itself, the film had set the tone for an edge of the seat thriller, which it is, and most of the credit should go to the young trio of writers Karan Vyas, Mikhil Musale and Niren Bhatt. It is a watertight script, and keeps the surprise element constantly going all through the film, until the final revelation. The movie revolves around a young happy-go-lucky charmer Raju Bambani, played exceptionally well by Pratik Gandhi. Raju works as a driver during the day and doubles up as a lovable bootlegger by night. Raju also holds aspirations to be an entrepreneur and is ready to risk anything, for his start up. In the scene enters his bosses good for nothing, rich brat, Tanmay (Kavi Shastri) and his French friend Shaily (Kimberley Mcbeath); with this opens up subplots of Tanmay’s business in Malaysia along with Raju and Shaily’s warm camaraderie. The first hour is breezy as we are immersed into Raju’s love, life and histrionics, alongside the unfolding accident narrative. Raju’s life turns upside down, with the car accident that kills two policemen and severely injures an elderly gentlemen; and in a dubious way makes him the only accused of the crime.
The way the story unfolds, the accident becomes the actual protagonist and every other character gradually gets connected to the incident. The narrative, in true Phantom style, is non-linear and goes back and forth constantly, which demands extreme attention from the viewer. A note-worthy achievement of the script is the way it fuses humor in tense and chilling moments of the film. Many of these claps and whistles are earned by Jayesh More who plays the shrewd cop investigating the Hit and Run. There are enough of clap-friendly dialogues and moments, the good part is it doesn’t dampen the urgency of the plot.
The narrative is well supported by strong visuals and some chart topping numbers. The cinematography is top notch; worth a mention is the chilling accident scene, that appears thrice in the film. The Background score is nice, though, as a viewer I would have loved some more silences in the score. I particularly enjoyed the title song, Zindabad Re, it’s a visual treat and gives a surreal feel to the city of Ahmedabad. The script that ventures into unchartered areas (as far as Gujarati Cinema is concerned) has smartly used music to keep its popular side elevated. The film boasts of Arijit Singh’s first Gujarati number, Satrangi Re, and it is beautifully weaved into the narrative. I also enjoyed the way intermission is brought about, the way it juxtaposes Navratri beats with a chilling accident is a cinematic treat. Great work by the ever dependable Sachin-Jigar.
Yes, like any other subjective work of art, this too has some hiccups. Inconsistency in pace, a tad convenient court drama and sudden shifts in cop’s loyalties are a few bumps in an otherwise smooth ride. But my biggest complaint with the makers is Raju’s reduced screen time in the third act. Pratik Gandhi as Raju is a craftily nuanced performance, one that stays with you even after you are out of the theater. The twinkle in his eyes, the blush on his cheeks, the layered smile on his lips, the uncompromising look in tensed situations – Pratik Gandhi nails it as Raju. Such a fine piece of acting, that you would want to have him in every single frame on the screen. You just can’t get your eyes off him.
The film is ably supported by other cast of Asif Basra, Ragi Jani, Alok Gagdegar, Makrand Shukla, Maulik Chauhan and others. This is the third film from the path breaking producer Abhishek Jain of Cineman Productions, and is co-produced by Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films. All credit to producers for backing the first time director Mikhil Musale, who effortlessly brings to life an unusual take on Hit and Run. He is a great promise to the fraternity.
Between being formulaic and inventive ‘Wrong Side Raju’ is a cinema of high quality and deserves to be enjoyed in theaters. It has chills, thrills and frills, all that a diligent Gujarati moviegoer expects.
Don’t miss it.
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