By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "Sau Jhooth Ek Sach"; Starring: Mammootty, Vikram Gokhale, Lilette Dubey. Joy Sengupta, Neha Dubey, Kiran Janjani, Meghna Kothari, Tisca Arora; Director: Bappaditya Roy; Rating: **
Conscience is a precious commodity, especially in today's day and age when human aspirations have smothered finer values and reduced morality to a mockery. Debutant director Bappaditya Roy's morality tale is an arresting ensemble piece.
Set in an unscrupulous and amoral business tycoon's living room, it aims for the onion effect. As layer after layer of guilt is peeled off we come face to face with the mirror image of a society that respects only money and success.
Adapting the stagy, dark and forbidding mood of Govind Nihalani's "Party" and Roman Polanski's "Death and The Maiden", Roy gets considerable help from his ultra-competent cast in creating an ambience of retrospective stock-taking, as police inspector Vivek (Mammooty) cross-examines one member of the tycoon's family after another regarding the suicide of a hapless girl in a tenement.
Capitalist arrogance meets bourgeois angst in this little film about big complexes, all strung together in sequences that don't always cohere smoothly. The jerky, jolting quality of the narrative gives the plot a quality of unpredictable investigation so that we aren't just watching a family's life come apart at the seams. We are also looking at a well-crafted tale of crime and retribution.
There's a bit of Kafka and a bit of Govind Nihalani in Roy's simmering yet calm vision. To his credit, he doesn't let the anger of indignation overpower the narration. Controlled and calm, the film moves forward with minimum fuss, as character after character is devastated in the course of one night's soul-searching.
The flashbacks about the dead girl's past cut into the placid drawing room setting like welters of lightning on a cloud-laden night. By the end of it all, we are compelled to look inwards for answers on the social inequalities that have plagued our system of governance for years.
Not that "Sau Jhooth Ek Sach" really aims or succeeds in being anything more than an interesting exploration of a guilty, festering value system. The editing is intermittently choppy and the dialogues tend to get shrill in their self-righteousness.
But there are interesting performances, particularly by Neha Dhupia as the body-phobic daughter of the business family who finds her bearings before the night is through. Joy Sengupta, always a joy to behold (remember him as Jaya Bachchan's son in Govind Nihalani's 'Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa'?), epitomises the theme of guilt and redemption more aptly than any other member of the cast.
Vikram Gokhale looks fine as the arrogant tycoon. But his performance loses its edge the minute he opens his mouth to let loose a volley of vernacular English dialogues.
Mammootty's comeback is disappointingly low-key. As the plot's conscience-keeper, he seems to be standing above the troubled subject looking into a crisis that's not really his.
Roy says introspection is a theme close to his heart.
"I am consumed by the theme of introspection. 'Sau Jhooth Ek Sach' is inspired by a 1946 play 'An Inspector Calls' by Jimmy Presley, set during the great depression. I've contemporised the theme, brought in episodes from recent headlines concerning the rich and the famous, including Rahul Nanda's hit-and-run case involving a BMW. The film is getting a Mumbai-only release this Friday. It opens elsewhere Sep 23.
"I'm happy with what I've to say in 'Sau Jhooth...' Matters of the conscience fascinate and trouble me. I firmly believe, the harder you try to run away from your conscience the more it will chase you.
"That is also the theme of my next ready-for-release 'Ek Din Anjaane Mein' featuring Mammootty again, with Raveena Tandon and Rinke Khanna. Whereas 'Sau Jhooth Ek Sach' is more stagy and cerebral, I would say 'Ek Din Anjaane Mein' is more massy. I hope to strike the right balance between what the audiences want and what I want to give them."
Bollywood.com Rating: 1