Movie Review: 'Ugly' is Anurag Kashyap's best film since 'Black Friday'

Mihir Fadnavis

Dec,26 2014 13:56:40 IST

There is a reason why Anurag Kashyap is considered an excellent filmmaker, why he has the cult following that he does, and that reason is that he hates formula. Few filmmakers in India have had the courage to fiddle with Bollywood’s rules and Kashyap is one of them. He’s been doing it consistently, having tried to bridge the gap between mainstream and offbeat with the Wasseypur films, and going lo fi with the disappointing That Girl in Yellow Boots.

Most people consider Black Friday as Kashyap’s golden ticket. It wasn’t. It was Paanch. Dark, blood soaked noir is his forte. With Ugly, Kashyap has returned to his roots, and the result: Ugly is Kashyap’s best film in years. It’s also his most mature work to date.

The plot is simple – a little girl named Kali goes missing, and her father, a struggling actor named Rahul (Rahul Bhatt) runs helter skelter looking for her. There are twists and turns, but this film is not about the whodunit. It’s about the characters – they’re all ugly; ugly from the inside, the outside and from every possible side. Kali’s mother (Tejaswini Kolhapure) is a suicidal alcoholic, divorced from Rahul and now married to the cop (Ronit Roy) who is investigating the case. The cop is regressive, but feigns an air of dignity and righteousness. Rahul’s friend and agent (Vineet Kumar) is a seedy guy involved in all the awful things you expect from a casting agent. The thanedaar taking the case (Girish Kulkarni) is an arrogant villain who finds humour in Rahul’s genuine anguish.

Courtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

Kashyap places all these scumbags in a juicer-mixer-grinder of a plot. Lies, betrayal, screaming, pummelling, whiskey-guzzling, pill-popping, mass murdering – it’s your not-so-usual cocktail of depravity, served up in Mumbai’s underbelly.

Ironically, Ugly looks beautiful. It’s all dark, dank and disgusting, and yet impossible to look away from, courtesy of cinematographer Nikos Andretsakis, who earlier worked on Dibakar Bannerjee’s films. This isn’t another Dev D, but a film that is its own beast, filled with black and blue, and the color of grime. The second thing you’ll notice about Ugly is the spine-chilling rock music-inspired background score by Brian McOmber. This sort of sound design hasn’t been heard in Bollywood and it really is quite refreshing.

Finally, there are the supercharged powerhouse performances from nearly everyone in the film, even those with smaller parts like Vineet Kumar and Surveen Chawla. Roy repeats his tough guy shtick from Udaan, but he brings an intensity to it nonetheless. Bhat, last seen in the terrible Nayee Padosan, is wonderful as the desperate, failed actor. Apparently the actors weren’t given the scripts before shooting, and the improv style of filmmaking has somehow worked. The climax might seem anticlimactic, but it certainly is quite haunting.

Add to all that grime jet black humour and Kashyap’s trademark irreverence, which is arresting this time instead of seeming indulgent. There is a ten-minute scene between Kulkarni and Bhat, where the latter goes to the police station to lodge a complaint and the former takes Bhat’s case instead of taking on the case. Every bickering venomous sentence coming from Kulkarni’s mouth is hilarious and the scene becomes more and more fun as it goes on. It only becomes less hilarious when you realize that’s how most police stations in India function.

You’ll probably be confused as to whom to root for by the end of the film, but the answer really is nobody. Kashyap never tries to make you sympathise with any of the characters, thereby making them more real. Human beings are terrible by default, and they would only do more terrible things to others to have their own way. So there’s no point of rendering a contrived ‘goodness’ to the central character, and Kashyap remains quite non-judgemental. The vast space between helplessness and desperation is morbidity, and Ugly lives in that world.

Updated Date: Dec 26, 2014 13:59 PM