Aankhon Dekhi review: a beautiful film about a wise old fool
The best films are those that subvert your expectations as a viewer. It’s impossible not to have expectations, of course, as we now walk into movie theatres after being bombarded by teasers, trailers and interviews; all of them trying to force us to reach a pre-determined opinion for any upcoming release.
Aankhon Dekhi is an exception. Not only is it a film that has been criminally underpromoted, but it does something few of us would’ve expected. Sanjay Mishra, a comedic actor best known to many as the bumbling Apple Singh, breaks our hearts with his astounding performance as Raje Bauji, a man who dares to look at the world differently.
Directed by Rajat Kapoor, Aankhon Dekhi is a tour de force set in the heart of old Delhi about Bauji, the grizzled patriarch of a joint family who decides that he will no longer believe anything that he hasn’t seen with his own eyes. A simple and idealistic conceit, one would think, and not enough to sustain an entire feature-length film.
But Kapoor breathes life into this story that focuses on The Great Indian Mohalla by creating real, flesh-and-blood characters that are played by one of the most talented ensembles seen on screen in recent times. These include Seema Pahwa as Bauji’s shrill, long-suffering wife, Maya Sarao as his daughter, Taranjeet as his stressed-out sister-in-law and Kapoor himself as his younger brother. It is a film that captures Delhi - 6 in a manner Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra never did.
The incident that triggers off Bauji's epiphany is a familiar one: young Rita (Sarao) has been caught going out on a date with Ajju (Namit Das), who is said to be a laundiyabaaz. After the family tracks Ajju down to teach him a lesson (with one typically clueless Delhi cop in tow), Ajju cowers in fright and breaks down. Bauji then realises that hearsay is a dangerous thing – surely no womanising wolf would behave in such a manner?
The beauty of the concept and how it plays out is that Mishra’s character is both Lear and fool. Too often, in these kinds of films, we’re given protagonists who are either beyond reproach or flawed beyond recognition, and the stories around them usually exploit these qualities to create situations to push the filmmaker’s agenda forward. Here, Kapoor’s sure-handed writing allows Mishra’s character to jump into the ocean and swim in myriad directions without ever losing the audience.
Bauji’s quest to find the absolute truth is met with a variety of reactions: jeers, derision, sympathy, concern, acceptance and obeisance. But it is never a predictable, linear graph. Some characters, like Bauji's wife, forever treat it as a burden. Others, like his children, humour him until he cramps their style. The neighbourhood sycophants, played by an assortment of actors, including the brilliant Brijendra Kala, alternate between hero worship and scathing in their dealings with Bauji.
The story moves forward with the aid of jump cuts in an unspecified time period, leading to several gaps in the storyline that the audience is forced to fill. Sometimes the answers to these aren’t entirely satisfactory. For example, how a mathematics professor is convinced by Bauji’s facile logic that pits simple arithmetic against accepted geometrical concepts is slightly hard to swallow. Another time, Bauji discovers his life’s first vice — gambling — and becomes a regular at the neighbourhood adda. However, aside from it leading to gossip about Bauji, the film does nothing significant with it, denying us a look into what the characters in his immediate life think about this development.
In terms of portrayals and production design, Aankhon Dekhi is about as accurate as a film can get. Every character is pitch-perfect in terms of their accents, mannerisms and looks. The lower-middle-class family dynamic is explored beautifully, with the family watching haplessly as their patriarch runs amok, unable to do much about it. Meanwhile, the background score by Sagar Desai uses sitars and sarangis playing ragas such as Lalit and Malkauns to supplement Bauji’s evolution – an unusual choice of arrangements nowadays, but one that gives the film a meditative and spiritual glow.
And finally, as Bauji, Mishra, a National School of Drama alumnus, finally finds a role into which he can sink his guthka-stained teeth. With remarkable restraint, he adds layers to the archetypal ‘knowledgeable fool’ character: concerned father, hapless husband, difficult brother and doting grandfather. This is one of the best performances you’ll see this year.
Aankhon Dekhi is not a film that will invite public love, the way Queen or Highway have managed to garner over the past month. It eschews typical Bollywood razzle-dazzle to paint a stark but vivid portrait of the search for meaning and truth in our lives, where the laughter and the tears both come from the truth laid bare on screen. It is an intensely rewarding experience, with an ending that will haunt you for days afterwards
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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2014 10:22:15 IST