The Hungry movie review: Naseeruddin Shah, Tisca Chopra enjoy a grey avatar in this thriller

Nandhu Sundaram

Oct,20 2017 15:39 54 IST

3/5

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.

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, gets a modern-day reworking as The Hungry, Bornila Chatterjee’s second feature. Dark and shockingly violent, Chatterjee lets the overwhelming horror of the story more than make up for the slightly incoherent story line. Nick Cooke’s lush cinematography and low-lit scenes go with the mood of the disconcerting plot.

This was never one of Shakespeare’s more revered plays but definitely an indication of the darkness to come in his later works. A New Year’s party at the start of the movie goes horribly wrong when the young and good-looking scion of the Joshi family is found in the bathtub, his wrists cut, and suicide implied. This is on the eve of his marriage to the daughter of Tathigat Ahuja played by Naseeerudin Shah, who seems to the relish the relatively rare opportunity to play a villain, giving the movie its homicidal edge.

A still from The Hungry. Youtube screengrab

A still from The Hungry. Youtube screengrab

Tulsi Joshi, the single mother of the man in the bathtub, is played by Tisca Chopra, who delivers a smoking hot performance. She is a woman with her back to the wall but bent on revenge for her son’s murder, for she suspects foul play from the word go. Conspiring with Tathagat’s right hand man (Neeraj Kabi), who she has managed to wrap around her little finger, she plots and schemes as Tathagat is released from jail on an unrelated offence two years after the sequence that begins the movie.

All this is set in the backdrop of Tulsi’s marriage to the much younger son of Tathagat — the bumbling, dimwitted Sunny (Arjun Gupta) at the sprawling Ahuja estate. The plot grows markedly murkier as the sexy daughter of Tathagat, Loveleen (Sayani Gupta), who is his favourite, decides to go on a drinking spree with Tulsi’s other son, Chirag (Antonio Aakeel). Intoxicated and with a burning desire to extract revenge, Chirag bashes up Loveleen, smashing her face in beyond recognition. Watching Loveleen escape provides some of the movie’s most harrowing and indelible scenes.

Tulsi’s desire for revenge is portrayed by Chatterjee with a generous dose of sympathy and her cause is shown as being relatively right compared to Tathagat’s ruthless hunger for power and money. Chopra’s performance matches the Bollywood veteran Shah’s delectable turn step for step, with both actors enjoying their roles even as their on-screen versions set in motion a chain of events that can only end in murder and mayhem. It is clear from the start that she is quietly desperate in sharp contrast to Tathagat’s cool, methodical ways.

The film may work well as a dark tragedy, but Shakespeare’s larger point of the emptiness and sometimes self-destructiveness of the soul and human psyche is a bit lost. The opening sequence is returned to multiple times, as Chatterjee reveals the machinations behind the murder in slow, excruciating detail. This may have been done for the chills but it is clear who is behind the opening murder and so the point of the flashbacks was lost on this reviewer.

Some scenes are unevenly directed and the scene is which Tathagat is shaven by his barber is a downright cliché. But then the scene that follows is a redemption of proceedings, as Shah screams at a few workers for not buying enough marigolds for the wedding with malevolent evil, even as crucial corporate documents bringing about the merger of the two empires — the Ahujas and Joshis — are being signed .

There is a certain deliberateness to the way Chatterjee directs that makes us forget the movie’s minor flaws; not a movie to fall in love with, but perhaps held and admired from a distance.