Ardh movie review: Rajpal Yadav film fails abysmally to grasp the story that is right in front of it
Ardh is patently poor which is absurd because it is really trying to somewhat tell the story of Rajpal Yadav, its protagonist.
castRajpal Yadav, Rubina Dilaik, Hiten Tejwani, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
At one point in Zee5’s Ardh, Shiva played by Rajpal Yadav who returns as the protagonist of a mainstream Hindi film after a gap of almost 15 years tells his friend “Ye kuch filter laga diya, online daal diya, isko thori naa bolte hain acting”. Shiv is an aspiring actor who is clearly a traditionalist trying to navigate the new-age world of ‘content’ and ‘attention’. This may also be a jibe at how internet has overhauled the way we evaluate talent. Weirdly, in another scene a producer’s desk is surrounded by landline phones from the era of the early 2000s – the peak of Yadav’s career that epitomises the laxity of this film. Ardh is a technical mess, a colossal feat of under-direction that is so tonally bereft of the basic markers of cinema it doesn’t really even belong on OTT.
Seemingly semi-autobiographical but devoid of any craft or graft, the biggest crime of Ardh is the fact that it can’t even grasp the story that is right in front of it. Instead, it meanders and misses not one, but pretty much all the points it sets out to make.
Ardh is the story of 37-year-old Shiva who is for some reason being played by the roughly 51-year-old Rajpal Yadav. Shiva works odd jobs in Mumbai, while nursing a deep affection for the film industry. The film caricatures Yadav, the same way Bollywood did two decades ago. Here it isn’t ironic or driven by pathos, but simply a desperate attempt to rekindle the nonchalance that made Yadav the comedic heir to Johny Lever. As Shiva continues to give auditions, he struggles to make ends meet. Madhu, played by the miscast Rubina Dilaik is given precious little to do alongside a man old enough to be her father. While the film wants to critique the stereotyping of certain actors – as has happened to Yadav in the past – it can’t see through its own fatal missteps.
There is hardly any chemistry between Madhu and Shiva, echoed by the lines of despair that their faces sport in comparison to the other. There is a child in the family, but he does arbitrarily insignificant things. Most actors here are given the brief to just sound and look poor. Yadav does the heavy lifting, daylighting as a eunuch and then doing other odd jobs to foot his half of the bill. But there is little constructive insight here into both poverty or the many characters that Yadav through this script, gets to play. From selling pani puris to lugging building equipment, a montage covers Shiva’s struggle rather than giving his suffering some sort of depth. The dialogues are mopey, sure, but they barely sound like anything. The sound design is poor, emotions and music overlap tripping each other into a tangled mess it is difficult to rescue your senses from. It’s one thing to make a bad film, it’s another to make it bad in so many ways.
Rajpal Yadav is an odd phenomenon to describe. He possesses the artistry to look the part, but it’s when he is not playing victim (remember Jungle?) that he really shines. Unfortunately, that is not how writers, directors or maybe even the actor has looked at himself for the longest time. Here there are enough jokes about his height, his face, and his ungainly body. It doesn’t help that Yadav always wants to play the charlatan who can’t tell black from white and ghost-walks through life doing and hoping for the best. There are scenes of Shiva, backlit by the Mumbai skyline, its iconic facades as some sort of metaphor for life having by-passed such a fine, promising actor. Maybe I’m just reading too much into a moment of lull in a film that could have worked with maybe, simpler direction. If someone could have asked Yadav to not act like he used to, and instead just be who he is today – a 50-something actor who broke into Hindi cinema and disappeared from it without a trace – it might have made for the better tale.
Instead, Ardh is so poor it can be considered a B-grade attempt to defile an A-grade story. Yadav’s own life, his breakthrough into an industry that was back then, guarded by power structures, thugs and mafias would be a thing in itself. For some reason, this bizarre little entity misses the forest for the trees. Weirdly, even in this dumpster fire of a non-film, the one redemptive sign is that Yadav can still possibly act. Possibly, that is. Someone will have to claw it out of him because as history is evidence, there is something there. It cannot all have vanished or be buried under whatever life heaped upon the once charming actor. This film, however, isn’t the calling card that the actor hoped modern filmmakers will see it as.
Ardh is available on ZEE5
Manik Sharma writes on art and culture, cinema, books, and everything in between.
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