By Subhash K Jha, IANS
Film: "Kal: Yesterday and Tomorrow"; Cast: Shiney Ahuja, Chitrangada, Smriti Mishra, Boman Irani, Gopi Desai; Direction: Ruchi Narain; Rating: **
To deal with our tomorrows we need to come to terms with our yesterdays. This could be as true of our social structure as our cinema.
A new kind of cinematic sensibility celebrating the multitude of voices that constitute the Great Indian Bazaar has crept into our cinema. And it's heartening to note that some of these changes have been precipitated by women directors who don't necessarily represent a feminine perception on screen.
Last week, we had Kannika Verma's brave but flawed "Dansh". This week another debutante director Ruchi Narain bends the rules of Hindi cinema to come up with a film that's as tangled as a "jalebi" (Indian fried sweet).
We never know which way the flour of life flows in this freewheeling dish driven by a hunger to take our cinema into dark forbidden recesses.
"Kal" is partly a comment on the Page 3 crowds, screaming out loud for attention at parties where no one hears anything except the sound of the ear-blasting music and the sound of your own tired blood pumping in vain.
The futility of these posh but derelict lives is well caught by Ruchi's restless camera. But the characters don't seem to belong to the canvas as comfortably as they do in Madhur Bhandarkar's "Page 3". The actors playing the rich and the infamous are largely effective in a tentative, tousled way. They don't seem to have existed before Ruchi Narain's capricious tale caught them in the act.
Often you feel the jerky camera movements and the far-from-smooth progression of the plot is not a presumption for the characters but a pretext for poor production values. That certainly takes away from the novelty. What remains is a feeling of lingering regret, precipitated by a sense of furious foreboding.
The 20-something characters all seem to be angry and on the brink of disintegration. Their longings meander into a plot about a murder in a distinguished business house which turns fashionably incoherent at times.
For a consciously intimate character study, the film has too many characters whose lives cut into each other with abrupt candour - not unlike the editing patterns for the narrative that invite us to look at these snarled lives with a sneering disaffection. Trouble is, this tone of tenable edginess affects the narration in self-destructive ways.
Though we enjoy the characterizations for their absolute disregard for convention, we also miss a semblance of structural serenity in these scrambled lives.
The film opens with the murder of a girl named Maya (Smriti Mishra). As the pulverized plot gathers a plethora of characters around the murdered Maya, we feel a crowd of people jostling the narrative to the extent that it stumbles and falls over the edge.
At the helm of the spaced-out events that finally lead to a very conspicuously 'thriller-like' denouement is Bhavna (Chitrangada). Portrayed as fey and rebellious, Chitrangada's presence just about serves as an equipoise in this tale of askew lives. The director quickly and quirkily moves through the characters' lives, using distancing devices such as images from television news channels to create an immediacy and urgency way beyond what the plot actually entails.
The film's multiple perceptions on the life of the rich and the privileged fail to resonate. Though interesting to watch "Kal: Yesterday and Tomorrow" just doesn't seem to get the swarm of characters into a coherent line of vision. One or the other character keeps jumping out of the director's line of vision, creating his or her own little pocket of drama that finally adds up to a quilt of quirky events signifying very little except the advent of yet another independent filmmaking voice.
The performances range from the affected to the artificial. Some actors like Boman Irani, Ram Kumar (very quiet and effective, even as the world around him goes into overdrive) and Sarika (playing the murder-accused hero's socialite sister) can be seen struggling to find the centre to a plot that insists on getting seriously tangential, and finally drowning in its own confusions.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2