In The Shadows movie review: Manoj Bajpayee's performance has shades of tour de force Aligarh act
The 19th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is finally here, and with it comes an unending list of critically acclaimed Indian and international films to watch. Some of these are submissions for the Oscars, while others are hitherto untold, hyperlocal stories. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.
After a premier at the Busan Film Festival, In The Shadows (also known as Gali Guliyan) played at the Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival. Writer-director Dipesh Jain’s debut feature film is set in the maze of Old Delhi’s oppressive streets. Behind large doors, in a dusty old house, a tired and dishevelled man spends his days and nights observing his neighbourhood through a network of spy cameras fed into TV sets in his home. It’s his only connection with the living world, besides his friend Ganeshi (Ranvir Shorey).
One day Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee) has a visit from his long estranged brother. It’s a sad moment as the older brother faces his sibling’s transactional interactions. This visit leads to the unlocking of a room stacked with long-forgotten possessions and buried memories.
One night, through the wall of his house, Khuddoos hears sounds of a child being beaten up. He becomes obsessed with finding this child and rescuing him. Jain’s screenplay follows two characters — Khuddoos and a teenage boy, Idu (Om Singh), the son of Liakat, a butcher (Neeraj Kabi) who is an archetypal chauvinist.
Kai Miedendorp’s camera tracks Khuddoos one moment and Idu another, as they navigate through Old Delhi’s sunless lanes. Khuddoos is trying to find the tormented child; Idu is seeking an escape from the asphyxiation of these labyrinthine streets. The only light in a dark, hopeless world is Idu’s mother (Shahana Goswami), a woman who is resigned to her circumstance but optimistic for the sake of her children. And Khuddoos’s concerned and generous friend Ganeshi brings in another sliver of hope.
The repetition of some thoughts, the dangling loose ends and forsaking a tighter edit for overstaying in the milieu provides space enough to work out a twist, which is not deeply disguised. In the Shadows is a psychological drama that, unlike its secretly voyeuristic characters, stares straight into the souls where abuse and tragedy have dug deep and painful roots.
The production design is on point, with the dusty interiors and the claustrophobia of the streets coming across effectively. It’s an ambitious first feature, and while Jain manages to pull off many things rather ably, he falters at other points. Many of the stumbles are painted over by a fine cast. Kabi, Goswami, Shorey and Singh travel the range of emotions from frustration to acceptance, resignation, affection, hatred, tenderness, love and pain. But it’s Bajpayee who has the toughest role, playing a character who is isolated and trapped — physically, emotionally and psychologically. There are shades of his tour de force performance as Professor Siras in Aligarh, with Bajpayee reiterating his command on his craft as he conveys so much while given so little to say or do.