Encounter: Can't make a killing here!
Naseeruddin Shah and Tara Deshpande in "Encounter: The Killing", now showing across Delhi.
(At Regal and other Delhi theatres)
LAST NOVEMBER on the eve of the release of "Monsoon Wedding" in New Delhi, Naseeruddin Shah did not seem to pin too much hope on Bollywood beyond Mira Nair's film. He only spoke about "Prashnachinha", an Ajay Phansekar film he believed might just do for Phansekar what "Chandni Bar" did for Madhur Bhandarkar. A few months later `Prashnachinha" was changed to "Encounter: The Killing". Turns out now that Shah really did not have much to base his faith on. "Encounter" was released in Mumbai about a month ago. It has been able to find theatres in the Capital only now. The reason is not far to seek. Truth to tell, "Encounter" is no "Ardh Satya". Far from it.
It is a dark, despondent film which does not really come to life. Set in the world of cops and crime, it takes off where others like "Satya", "Company", "Danger", "Durga", "Chhal" and a host of others left. It is not the leader of the pack. It is not even the work of an able understudy. Which is sad considering the film comes with so much talent at command - Shah with the quietly efficient Tara Deshpande and seasoned Ratna Pathak Shah for company. However, if not having talent is bad, not utilising the talent you have is worse. That is precisely what Phansekar has done in a film which also suffers from the now repetitive nature of films based on cops and the underworld.
With a strong undercurrent of the world of bhais here, Bollywood is going overboard with underworld. After a host of guns and girls films, what is needed to cheer up Bollywood struggling to churn out a hit after "Devdas" is a sunshine film, not a film which comes into its own only when the night falls, when the shadows lengthen, when blood spills, when the beat constable blows his whistle and shuts his eyes when the ruffians have their hour under the moon.
A grim, gritty film, "Encounter" does not hit you in your face, it does not go for the jugular; it takes you by the chin. As a consequence, the view is never more than lopsided, the presentation seldom straight, almost always angular. This probably has a lot to do with the intentions of the makers. To avoid a hard-hitting film with no grey areas, Phansekar probably opted for a film which will go beyond the good cop-bad cop divide. Cops don't necessarily have to rescue the nation from the clutches of the enemy from without and within as in "Indian" or be the handmaidens of sordid politicians as in "Shool". There can be some conscientious cops, who would not kill a suspect, who would not be a sycophant in the durbar of a local bigwig, yet liable to commit a mistake or two. That is precisely what Shah does here. Chasing four young men, he ends up shooting one of them, who has pledged to undertake the long road to reform. And then lives with the guilt. One trigger-happy moment and a lifetime of disappointment. That is what lies in store for Shah until he solves the problem, finds out the whereabouts of the guy and manages to find reluctant, if actual parents.
Shah is as good as he has been in scripts that do not challenge him. Deshpande as a TV journalist is suitably loud but a shade implausible when she dons the garb of a conduit towards social reform. Together, they provide a few redeeming moments in a film which has a sound premise, largely stays honest to the subject - beyond a couple of songs - and avoids clichés. Yet, the director's grip is seldom tight, the editing not really up to the mark and the locales quite repetitive. Clearly, a low budget affair, this film has its moments without being consistently absorbing.
When the film is over, its music does not stay with you, the songs don't drool off your lips, its action remains pedestrian, its dialogue seldom veering even close to being memorable. They neither evoke laughter or full-throated approval from the frontbenchers nor do they get more subtle affirmation from the gentry. As for Shah pinning his hopes on this one, well, this film would have been a masterpiece if a table could have been passed off for a piano, if mere intention could substitute action. Since that is not the case, Phansekar and Shah will have to wait another day to make a killing at the box office.
ZIYA US SALAM
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