By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Kalyug"; Cast: Amrita Singh, Kunal Khemu, Smiley Suri, Deepal Shaw, Emraan Hashmi and Ashutosh Rana; Director: Mohit Suri; Rating: ***
"One man's pain is another man's entertainment..." The truism trickles into the blazing bowels of this film more than once. At a time when many of the biggest films are unexpectedly turning from pleasure zones to titillating tombs of groans, here's a film that sings a different refreshing and believable ring tone.
It's been a while since the Bhatts (Mahesh Bhatt and Vishesh Films) have made a film that was as original and thought provoking as "Kalyug". Going deep into the arteries of net-porn, it emerges with a film that explores and exposes sleaze without getting sleazy.
"Kalyug" reclaims some of the lost intensity of Mahesh Bhatt's earlier films like "Zakhm" and "Sadak". It's no coincidence that that Kunal Khemu, who as a child did a masterful turn in "Zakhm", returns as an adult performer to partake of a theme similar to but far more disturbing than Bhatt's "Sadak".
Bhatt's protégé Mohit Suri's first directorial venture "Zeher" was lifted wholesale from a Denzel Washington starrer (coincidentally this week's Hollywood adaptation "Ek Ajnabee" is a Denzel original).
This time, Suri's searing expose of crime and innocence is refreshingly original, unspoilt and uncorrupted by overt formulistic flourishes.
The opening romance between a simple orphaned Kashmiri girl (newcomer Smiley) and a street-wise yet innocent survivor in Mumbai is done in gentle whispered tones enhanced by the sound of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan singing "Jiya dhadak dhadak jaye".
The Arcadian innocence of the opening interlude serves as a telling preamble to the nightmare that follows...
Ripping reams of headlines out of their sensational habitat, "Kalyug" delineates the humiliation and trauma of a young man whose lovemaking during his honeymoon is captured for the multimillion rupee porn market.
In true heroic fashion, Kunal sets out in search of the perpetrators of the perversity. The sequences in Zurich depicting a sweaty, anxious and lucrative debauchery are slightly amateurish but nonetheless effective.
The film must be strongly recommended for its intense and topical content. Not only does the film take on prickly subject of the international porn market, it also brings in other screaming headlines.
The young hero is shown as a homeless Kashmiri Pandit in Mumbai, while the porn queen (a variation of a favourite celluloid archetype The Fallen Woman -Redeemed, played soberly by Deepal Shaw) is a victim of the Gujarat communal riots.
Screenwriter Anand Sivkumaran fleshes out the characters with such accentuated yet calm strokes that every person from the porn racketeer Ashutosh Rana to the porn entrepreneur Amrita Singh and her lesbian daughter emerge as tangible people rather than just props in a pulsating plot.
Every actor is effective, thanks to the care taken over the characters. But Amrita Singh as the queen-pin and debutant Kunal Khemu (in the strongest part written for a debutant since Abhishek Bachchan in "Refugee") stand out.
Unconventional in look and controlled in demonstrating trauma of the whiplashed working-class lad, Khemu makes a promising debut.
Amrita Singh bludgeons her way into the tough role of the suave entrepreneur selling sleaze to the world.
Even the smallest of inter-relationship is expertly worked out. The narrative is never short of swift swerves and steep curves. The packaging, though not exceptionally deft, is eye-catching.
Blending a dramatic love story of a man on a mission of vengeance with an expose of a porn racket couldn't be easy.
"Kalyug" takes us into the underbelly of modern existence without losing a sense of bewildered anxiety about the way we look at the question of privacy and morality.
During a time when the biggest and classiest of banners are stripping their leading ladies to the barest of the minimum, "Kalyug" talks and acts on the traditional old world value of dignity and respect for women and the acute need for the preservation of the under-attack middleclass values.
Ironically, a film about pornography finally turns out to be a morality tale of the conscience and its redemption. Wonders never cease.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2