Allah Ke Banday: A Review

Allah Ke Banday- Dir: Faruk Kabir; *ing: Sharman Joshi, Faruk Kabir, Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni

Using Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and Barry Levinson’s Sleepers as obvious templates, Allah Ke Banday aims to give a unique perspective on the Mumbai underworld. Yakub (Kabir) and Vijay (Joshi) lost their way in the slums of Bhool Bhulaiya as kids recruited as petty crooks for the gangs of the area, and learnt life the hard way in juvenile prison under the sadistic watch of the cruel Warden (Shah). When they’re finally released, they vow to wrest control of the old neighbourhood from the rival criminal kingpins and instate themselves the new underworld lord and master. Ironically, to do so, they induct young boys from the locality as their ‘soldiers’, much as they once were themselves, thus continuing the vicious cycle of victim becoming perpetrator. But, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the two men find their world turning in on them, as Vijay – the strong-and-silent Michael Corleone to Yakub’s hot-headed Sonny – sprouts a conscience after falling in love (cliché alert), and Yakub lets his fiery nature rule his head one time too many.

One certainly appreciates the intent of this sophomore effort from Kabir, on triple-duty here as director, writer and one half of the lead duo. Amid the deluge of the designer label Bollywood extravaganzas, anything stripped of glamourous hokum and aspiring towards a modicum of substance such as this, deserves at least a look-see. Even if, unfortunately, the intent is more noteworthy than the outcome.

The main flaw that detracts from the impact the film could have had, are the underwritten characters across the board; they are not so much characters as types, and in the absence of a strong script, the lack of strong, identifiable characters becomes even more glaring, and therefore a problem that cannot really be ignored. We, the audience, watch films because we identify and empathise with the people onscreen; we invest ourselves emotionally in their dilemmas, and exult (or mourn) in the resolution. Were it not for some of the performances in Allah Ke Banday (Shah and Joshi in particular), one would be hard pressed to care about its players, not because their plight presented therein isn’t moving or pitiable from a human-interest angle, but because its cinematic treatment is severely lacking an emotional charge. Where the film needed to claw at your guts, it instead goes for a mere tug at the old heartstrings, which would be fine for a Karan Johar song-n-dance, but not quite the thing for a wannabe gritty underworld flick. Not helping matters (and this might seem like an odd quibble) is the choice (artistic or otherwise) to not do synch sound. Since Farhan Akhtar’s at-the-time bold decision to re-introduce synch sound into Hindi cinema with Dil Chahta Hai in 2001 after decades of dubbed films, more and more filmmakers have followed suit and for good reason: synch sound has an authenticity, an earthy urgency about it that dubbing can pretty much never duplicate, especially in a story like this where the haphazard, violent pace of the life depicted practically demands that dialogue be recorded on set. It wasn’t, and the film suffers for it.

And yet, here and there, there are flashes of unfathomable brilliance. The almost dialogue-free sequence where Vijay comes upon a now-old and decrepit Warden gnawing at a feeble meal in a rundown dhaba is remarkable in its sheer, haunting simplicity. The rest of the film could’ve worked wonders if it had been handled with similar subtlety.

Still, it’s early days yet for Faruk Kabir. Watch this space.

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