Subhash K Jha speaks about Mukhbiir!

Subhash K Jha Bollywood Hungama News Network

The biggest strength of this gritty espionage thriller is also its primary weakness. So real and bleak is the world of espionage created by writer-director Mani Shankar, so littered with carnage and catastrophe, that you wonder if the sheer sexiness of being a spy that we saw Dharmendra and Tom Cruise experience in Aankhen and Mission Impossible was a cinematic hoax created to hoodwink us into believing in the heroic hi-jinks of people who risk their lives for the sake of national security.

Mukhbiir creates a universe of continual searching and annihilation, where heroes are made and unmade with the passage of one bullet from gun to temple, and God help the temple! The young protagonist Kailash (Sammir Dattani) in Mani Shankar's film is painfully young vulnerable and so brutally thrown from one ruthless organization to another (legitimate or otherwise) that at the end of his anguished journey in search of a self identity we want him to be liberated of the pain that seems to be his only constant companion. The characters come and go in episodic eruptions. Silence is Kailash's final ally.

What Mukhbiir does to the spy genre is to turn it inside out. We aren't looking at James Bond's stirred-and-sexy world of the spy who loved the good life. Mukhbiir takes us into the murkiest depths of the espionage business where survival isn't a craving. It's a fugitive option offered to a few lucky ones. Luckily, for the gripping and gritty script, the protagonist is a boy-man constantly thrown into situations of severe uncertainty and terror. The tension never slackens. The reluctant young spy survives by sheer instinct and guts. The screen time is segregated into various episodes from Kailash's life as a government informer in action.

Luckily, the shoot-outs, somewhat amateurish in their chaotic eruptions, do not define the protagonist's life as much the human contact. Every encounter written for Sammir Dattani's character creates a new level of existential summit in his doomed life until we come to the finale where on Kailash's life (and death) hinges the survival of a city. The play of the personal and inter-personal is not quite as 'epic' on screen as it would appear in the writing. The director fills up the awkward ill-defined spaces in the narrative with pockets of humor and bridled drama all signifying the dynamics of an individual life's relationship with a troubled and violent society.

The final dialogue on Islam and violence between Rahul Dev (sinister and frightening in his stoic acceptance of violence as a way of life) lingers after the film. Mani Shankar's storytelling is highly original. There're no false moments in the discursive yet clenched drama of dissociation where Kailash becomes so distanced from his original identity that he eventually forgets who he is. The impressionable automaton's life is mapped out in ruthless detail. The powerful script lets us know there's no mercy for the weak in this grim and unsettled world of espionage and extremism. The two fatally- compatible worlds meet in strange eerie places where Kailash's masquerade as a man removed from his natural roots is so complete you wonder if he can ever go back to a 'normal' life. Though chronicling the protagonist's life in a macrocosmic world of intrigue secrecy and death , Mukhbiir cleverly and sensibly draws conclusions on the quality of protagonist's life through the people whom he meets and bonds with. Immense warmth and empathy are created in Kailash's interactions with people like his mentor Om Puri who first tutors Kailash into being a mean machine and then lets the poor boy loose in a world where death is the only certainty. Various other characters who come in and out of Kailash's life are played with wonderful warmth and/or wickedness by Alok Nath (outstanding as the benign retired gangster), Sunil Shetty (on a paternal mission to teach Kailash the ways of the underworld), Raj Zutsi (at-home doing the lovable anti-social rogue's part) and Sushant Singh (steel-edged and menacing as the evil gangster with heart of 'coal').

There's also a bit of diverting romance in Kailash's life when the pretty Raima Sen shows up for a while and departs, leaving the desolate protagonist to his own devices.But it's the mentor-turned-tormentor Om Puri's relationship with the boy-man-misinformed-informer that holds the plot together providing it with a sensitive center and a restless almost neurotic outer fringes that appear in jagged motions as speed breakers and spoilers in Kailash's life. The sequence where the Mukhbiir must watch his mentor being tortured and then kill him with his own hands without giving the game away is devastating in its intensity and impact. The writing sometimes outdistances the treatment. But what the heck! Who said cinema would have all the solutions on the platter? Mani Shankar's narration provides the hero's journey from disembodied salvation to abject doom and near-damnation with an energetic reined-in adrenaline that flows across the narrative's veins in restrained motions.

There is no extravagance in the narration. The plot moves stealthily and surely through a sanguinary labyrinth creating a world of disharmony and strife. What you go away with is the protagonist's pain heartbreak vulnerability and an untraceable reserve of inner strength that he uses to survive in a constantly treacherous world. Sammir Dattani portrays the frail kingdom of the vulnerable and the vanquished with an instinctive confidence. He instinctively embraces his character's weaknesses and aligns them to his own strengths as an actor. The synthesis is potent and poignant. Whether Sammir holds his character's troubled world together or it's the ingrained law of justice in an environment of unnerving doom that keeps the character from falling apart, we finally cannot say.

The doom and the doomed eventually merge into one, in Mukhbiir.

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