B.A. Pass reimagines New Delhi’s Paharganj area as a Dante-esque circle of hell. Here, a young, college boy named Mukesh is initiated into the rites of sex by the emotionally frigid but mysteriously seductive Sarika Aunty, who then proceeds to pimp him out to lonely ‘aunties’ looking to spice up their dull lives (one is so lonely she just wants conversation over a cup of tea) until the arrangement ends, as it must, in tragedy.
Working from a short story by Mohan Sikka, debutant director Ajay Bahl creates a film that starts out strong. The casting is solid, from the aged ‘beejee’ who warns the young boy that Sarika is a ‘dayan’ to Shilpa Shukla as Sarika, a woman so cynical that she doesn’t miss a beat even when her husband discovers her cheating, to Shadab Kamal as the hapless Mukesh, who loses his innocence in more ways than he had imagined.
B.A. Pass holds your interest as long as Bahl sticks to Sikka’s darkly twisted story. But each time he diverges — including his choice of the film’s cheesy name (Sikka’s story is titled The Railway Aunty) — the narrative wobbles.
The plot additions, including Mukesh’s sisters’ problems at a home for orphans and his desperate attempts at raising money towards the end of the film, are feeble. Some of the sex scenes are unintentionally funny — even in the throes of passion, for instance, Sarika keeps her bra on. But mostly, the film is tripped up by its strangely solemn yet voyeuristic tonality, a gaze that is both sympathetic and leering. Beyond a point, it becomes repetitive and Bahl is unable to hold your interest in these sad and sordid lives.
Still, B.A. Pass is much better than its tacky posters let on. Which is a welcome surprise.