WHEN THE OPENING montage of a film carries a voiceover telling you as plainly as possible what the film is about, and the lead characters are introduced with tacky titles spelling their names on a freeze frame, it is pretty much too late to expect anything from it cinematically. But it was not as easy to let go of expectations from director Faruk Kabir’s debut film, Allah Ke Banday. It came with the hype of being compared with City of God — a modern classic directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Like City of God, this is the story of children caught up in the web of crime, growing up as castaways in the slums that shadow glitzy cities. But for the rest of it, it could well be the antithesis of the iconic Brazilian saga. The film’s Cidade de Dues is a Dharavi-like slum in Mumbai called Bhool Bhulaiya. But Kabir can capture the pulse of neither Dharavi nor Mumbai. There is a distinct feeling — a certain shock, allure and curiosity that fill you when you walk the lanes of Dharavi. None of those sights and sounds filter through to the screen.
Where this film is really based then is Bollywood’s age-old representation of Mumbai’s underbelly. All it evokes is sets of other films. The plot follows the traditional recipe of the 1970s potboiler — stuffed with clichés like a dying mother, Hindu-Muslim unity, inseparable brothers and the drama of retribution. Its characters are either villains or heroes with no scope for nuances, the lead even named Vijay (Sharman Joshi).
The film is a cautionary tale of good versus evil. Such a cliché can only be acceptable in a spoof
The film does not attempt to challenge the moral universe created by the 1970s Bollywood in the way most contemporary Indian films are struggling to. Instead it winds up as an empty cautionary tale where evil is defeated by good when an idealistic schoolteacher (Atul Kulkarni) changes the hero’s heart. (This density of cliché is acceptable in a spoof ). But Allah Ke Banday takes itself seriously. As does its director who is also the second lead, story, screenplay and dialogue writer. Clearly, he can’t quite pull off the Renaissance Man. The dialogue is so stilted it belongs to the museum of Bollywood disasters. The camerawork, background score and shot taking is a hack job of what is staple in Ram Gopal Varma’s films. All this cinematic failure had to fall back on was its story. But draw as it may from real sources, it’s located in a plastic world and told through plastic characters. It cannot touch reality for the same reasons it cannot touch City of God — it is trapped in the maze of Bollywood’s myopic self-obsession.