Ugly review: Anurag Kashyap's latest is dark but a big disappointment

Deepanjana Pal

Dec,28 2014 18:00:47 IST

You can't say that director Anurag Kashyap doesn't give you the memo that Ugly is a dark story early on in his new film. Ugly isn't just about aspects of the morbid and gloomy in humanity. It is literally a dark film: virtually every frame is stained with shadows and everything is in shades of grey and black, as though Mumbai is being viewed through a blue-tinted lens. Or being filmed by a director and cinematographer who had seen the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) just before filming Ugly. There's little similarity in the plots of Ugly and Forbrydelsen, but there's no mistaking that bleak colour palette and the sense of gloomy menace that the two share.

Ugly is, according to Kashyap, a film that he wanted to make, rather than one that was either foisted on him or one that he moulded to meet the expectations of producers and distributors. This one is his baby and although it has a few moments of glittering insight, it certainly does live up to its name. Ugly isn't a bad film, but it is far from brilliant.

Courtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

Set in a Mumbai that's peopled with only the dregs of humanity, Ugly is the story of how a group of adults react when a little girl is lost. Ten-year-old Kali (Anshikaa Shrivastava) disappears from her father Rahul's (Rahul Bhat) car one afternoon. When he tries to file a complaint, Rahul's pleas are dismissed by the police. There's a wonderful scene in which Rahul is mocked brutally by a cop named Jadhav (Girish Kulkarni) as he tries to get them to take Kali's disappearance seriously. Kulkarni is brilliant, making you laugh and cringe as he whiplashes Rahul with his acerbic callousness. (It's only later that you realise that this long scene is just an indulgence and has little actual bearing on either the case or the story.)

Everyone sits up when they realise that Rahul's daughter happens to be police chief Shoumik Bose's (Ronit Roy) step daughter too. As it turns out, Shoumik Bose doesn't appear to be particularly bothered by Kali's disappearance, but he does relish being handed an opportunity to beat the crap out of Rahul and pin the guilt upon Rahul. Why? Because Rahul, the dude, was mean to Shoumik, the nerd, in college. Boys and girls, let that be a lesson to you. Every loser has his day, even if that day comes hand in hand with a shoebrush moustache.

Since the police seems unconcerned about Kali, Rahul decides to carry out his own investigation to find her. Meanwhile, Kali's mother Shalini (Tejaswini Kohlapure) drinks herself sillier and sillier. Shoumik clenches his jaw and grits his teeth so often that it's bound to make dentists in the audience twitch with the excited anticipation that comes of spotting a long-term client. All in all, it soon becomes painfully evident that although Kali is the one that everyone is supposed to be looking for, no one really cares about her.

Unfortunately for Ugly, this includes the audience. Kashyap perhaps hoped that an audience's Pavlovian reaction to a cute kid would be enough to make us care about Kali, but she's at best a blurry presence in the film and quickly overshadowed by the vile adults who surround her. Every grown-up in the film lives up to the title -- they are hideously ugly human beings. Not one has any redeeming aspect. It's depressing enough to make you want to send Kashyap either a box of cupcakes or a video of a Teletubby song (or both).

Everyone's a bad guy in Ugly, but not one exhibits the extraordinarily charismatic and riveting evil -- like that of Hannibal Lecter -- that demands our full attention. That, of course, is the point of Ugly. Kashyap's film is set in a world where everyone is uniformly horrible. However, this only serves to make the characters in Ugly come across as boringly mediocre, in both their mentality as well as their capacity for evil. They're also stupid, which doesn't help Ugly's case. Put it altogether and what emerges is a twisted and terrible world that is easy to dismiss the moment you leave the theatre because it's too morbid to feel real.

In terms of storytelling, the problem with filling Ugly with such characters is that there's no one that the audience cares about. Consequently, Ugly struggles to hold one's attention and you start wondering why you're sitting here, peering at these literally dark frames telling a metaphorically dark story.

Ugly is a disappointment, not just because it's a whodunit that sinks like a badly-made souffle but also because we expect better and more of Kashyap. Of him, we expect more taut storytelling, greater sensitivity in characterisation, as well as more originality and insight.

Without giving away the twist in the tale, one can't help but wonder if Ugly is an allegory of sorts for Kashyap and the cinema that he hoped to create. Perhaps Shoumik, Shalini, Jadhav, Rahul and all the other characters are camouflaged versions of different people in the film industry who lose sight of good cinema, embodied by Kali. Egoistical, petty and getting their high out of power trips, the adults in Ugly all appear to care about Kali but all they really want is to upstage one another.

Updated Date: Dec 28, 2014 18:01 PM