- Critic's Rating - 7.5/107.5/10
“Saanp khaayega choohe ko,
Saanp ko khaayenge giddh..
Niyam yahi sansaar ka,
Keh gaye saadhu siddh.”
Injected in the background score quite perpetually, these above lines addressed as “Law of Nature” in the movie form the core of Abhishek Chaubey’s latest sociodrama ‘Sonchiriya’. What makes the required difference here to the exploration of a theme so basic is the presence of Abhishek as the director, whose execution makes it seem all real.
Not only the same, the movie also subtly comments on caste system, patriarchy, and the case of survival vs living. The commentary sometimes is just on the surface (an unexpected disappointment!), and sometimes digs deep into the sad reality. Dissing the usual “cheerful” depiction of Punjab and its people, he created in ‘Udta Punjab’, a sociodrama commenting on the drug issue in Punjab. Keeping it real and rustic this time too, he chooses to depict the dacoits from ravines of Chambal in existential crisis. Set in 1970s, the dacoits here instead of having a hefty sum on their arrest, rather tend to feel the burden of debt their life has become.
When the movie opens straight to the shot of dead snake, I found myself thinking of the images of excruciating reality that we are constantly subjected to (further) – till the movie ends on a similar depressing note. The first prime character we are introduced to is ‘Sardar Man Singh’ : an effortless portrayal by Manoj Vajpayee. Emerging as my favourite act from the movie, he shines throughout with a screen presence so impeccable. As his screentime was brief, so I had to wait for his scenes. He plays here a dacoit so amusingly idealist that chooses to loot people by first getting them at ease, and the execution of the same by Manoj is as crazy as it sounds. His character’s presence in the narrative was to point at how the death of the king marks the downfall of a fledged kingdom. So, once the “Sardar” gets shot dead and his corpse falls off the roof, the same downfall is what their gang experiences thereafter.
The dacoits remaining alive find their new “Sardaar” in ‘Vakil Singh’ – a top notch portrayal by Ranvir Shorey. He is the one who always both sees and orders his members to pick between black or white. Unarguably the meatiest part amongst all, ‘Vakil’ has various moods to him which were depicted by the actor with full rustic flamboyance.
Adding to the seamlessly real performances does Ashutosh Rana play ‘Virendar Gujjar’ – the policeman hunting down the rebels in ravines. Where (as usual) his glaring eyes do the talking, trust his delivery too to rush the chills down the spine of both the dacoits at target and the audience in theater.
Delivering another high on conviction a performance, Sushant Singh Rajput here is ‘Lakhna’ aka ‘Lacchu’, a (relatively) soft – hearted dacoit among those brutal ones. Sushant isn’t here to be the Hero. He was indeed unnoticeable in the introduction sequence, looking like just one of those dacoits in focus, having a conversation with his gang members. Watch out for his heartening moments with the central kid : What exemplary switching of expressions from a straight face to all smiles, only to end up being straight faced again!
As if ‘Lacchu’ with few other gang members feeling this existential crisis amidst the blazing guns wasn’t enough, so, to garnish this ongoing madness (with her own) enters Bhumi Pednakar as ‘Indumati Tomar’. I loved how during her entry scene, the camera kept switching the lightwork on her character from full sunlight to a shadow, hinting at the oscillating mindsets of the gang members about trusting her statements. Being on a different note from rest of her “de-glam” characters, she rocks the show once getting the deserved presence on screen. Special mention for her act in the confrontation sequence prior to the climax, it’s indeed praiseworthy.
Indumati was carrying with herself a little girl who needed help. What followed from here did make way for the exploration of the true meaning of the title of the movie. Yes, the title deserves a huge applause too just for having an amusing air of ambiguity surrounding it. Rather than the obvious answer of the question – “Who is Sonchiriya?”, which later gets revealed in the narrative; the movie portrayed the gang too in the similar light right from the beginning : on the verge of extinction. Even Indumati (Bhumi) too almost does escape death (her extinction) perpetually here, adding to the credit and credibility of this masterful title.
Amidst the “noise” of blazing guns and slogan chants, the movie ironically finds it charm in the silences that appeal straight to our minds. Being unabashedly depressing and haunting, these silences tend to absorb you completely and cease to leave, (even) long after the end credits rolled out. The background score and the music too largely contributes to the haunting aftereffects it leaves on your soul. Haunting is again the word for the titular track ‘Sonchiriya’ in the voice of Rekha Bharadwaj, where her voice creates that dark impact. The dialogues by Sudip Sharma much escalate the needed authenticity of the setting. Only notable disappointment for me was the screenplay (again by Sudip Sharma) that failed to grip throughout, especially during the flashback in the second half : that felt like never ending. Several sequences felt forced, eventually making the proceedings look repetitive and superficial.
In its runtime of almost 145 minutes, a shorter duration and better exploration of themes through screenwriting would surely had made the narrative watertight, which otherwise relies heavily on the amazing dialogue work and first – rate performance by the cast, to carry the movie forward. Despite the visible rough edges, this crime drama proceeds steadily (thankfully), and is unapologetically real for most of the times, though sometimes gets superficial too!
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