"Yeh Saali Zindagi" - roller-coaster ride not for the weak-hearted (Movie Review)

By Subhash K. Jha

Film: "Yeh Saali Zindagi"; Director: Sudhir Mishra; Cast: Irrfan Khan, Chitrangda Singh, Arunodoy Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari; Rating:*** 1/2

To describe the roller-coaster ride that is "Yeh Saali Zindagi" is to attempt to draw the picture of the Red Fort at the seaside. Every attempt to define the plot will be washed away by forces beyond our control. So let's just say, it is an edgy and raw take on what it takes to make love, loyalty and other related illusions jell in a rapidly-mutating consumerist society like ours.

The film is set in and around Delhi's underbelly. Mishra explores the capital's get-rich sub-culture, revealing a flair for satire even at the most deplorable moments of reckoning. Yup, Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino would approve of Mishra's humour in the most sanguinary circumstances.

Almost every character in this foul-tongued treatise on love, lust and longing during times of gangwars, is stricken by a get-rich-quick itch, which eats into the very core of their existence, corroding their sense of propriety.

"Yeh Saali Zindagi" has some terribly funny moments of violence where you shock yourself by laughing at the senseless callousness of the killings. We have ruffians from in and around Delhi with thick Haryanvi accents who just gun down a man and then wonder why they killed him. In another funny sequence, a goon is asked to kill his own brother-in-law. The goon acts scandalized but instantly pulls the trigger when the price is right.

To be or not to be bad is no more the question. Being evil is fashionably acceptable.

There are hardly any reposeful moments in the narration. The breakneck storytelling replicates the restlessness of the characters. With a maestro's adeptness, Mishra weaves two love stories into the panoramic view of crime and corruption.

While Irrfan Khan plays a man taken by surprise by the eruption of unconditional passion for a crooner who gives a damn about him, Chitrangda's gold-digger act is a sophisticated variation of Vidya Balan's conniving seductress in "Ishqiya". Her character has been created with a sensuous vigour that very few actresses in Hindi cinema can boast of.

But "Yeh Saali Zindagi" is not a film that invites you to watch the characters' perform. It instead spreads the characters out in a wide, unmanageable net of indeterminate purpose but definite motivations. Get rich, fast, is the magic mantra.

Arunodoy Singh, as the tough Delhi jail-bird Kuldeep, exudes the scent of self-destructive aspirations. Not surprisingly Arunodoy's character is constantly running through crowded marketplaces and congested roads of Old Delhi, pursuing his angry and defiant wife (Aditi Rao Hydari). Arunodoy furnishes this love story with a perspirational passion, a far cry from his uncomfortable presence in the "Aisha".

Chitrangda plays the part-time crooner, full-time wealth-chaser with a robust but feminine cunning. She is a temptress, a fighter and packs a punch into her oomph. And when she finally surrenders to the overpowering devotion of Irrfan's character, she transforms into a woman with a conscience.

The conscience is a scarce commodity in Mishra's films. The characters are wild, boorish misfits who probably bathe once every week and go to the temple only to steal the deity's jewellery. Indeed gangsterism acquires an extended sense of humour in "Yeh Saali Zindagi". But one wishes the film had gone easy on the expletives and profanities.

Garnished with innovative music by Nishat Khan and Abhishek Ray and Sachin Kumar Krishnan's camera work that captures Delhi in all its eccentric quirky askew glory. "Yeh Saali Zindagi" has stand-out performances by Arunodoy, Chitrangda, Aditi, Saurabh Shukla, Sushant Singh and Yashpal Sharma.

But it's Irrfan Khan who leaves the deepest wound on the bloodied face of this savagely funny film. He is able to put across all the turmoil and confusions of an otherwise-hard-headed man who can't understand his burst of passion for a woman of dubious means and even more dubious morals.

Yes, the narrative meanders. We often don't know what it's looking for. Just like the characters who are lost in a labyrinth of kidnapping, embezzlement and sex. The people in Mishra's movie are forever seeking self-gratification through means that are quite outrageous from the outside though perfectly explicable from the perspective of the perpetrators.

"Yeh Saali Zindagi" is like of those nightmares that you have probably seen on a feverish night. The acts of injustice perpetrated by the characters nowhere suggests that they are compelled by circumstances to act as criminals. These people just can't help being bad.

Brutal, savage, funny and violent, "Yeh Saali Zindagi" is not for the weak-hearted.

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