Film Review: Ankhon Dekhi

Posted on 30 Mar 2014 under Essays

I’ve just watched Rajat Kapoor’s “Ankhon Dekhi”. Let me start by confessing that I know very little about Indian films to use statements like “typical Rajat Kapoor”, but I nevertheless have the feeling that that statement may not be very much off the mark.

Where to begin with Ankhon Dekhi? Shall we begin with praising Sanjay Mishra’s outstanding acting or shall we begin by praising the ethos, the setting and the surreal, yet believable storytelling of Rajat Kapoor? Let’s begin, perhaps, by introducing the unfamiliar to what Ankhon Dekhi is.

In a nutshell, it’s a pretty good experience. It’s far from the masala-pop that gets churned out so regularly, but you already knew that. Is it an artsy film? Not quite. It’s more of a tale of the heart of India, of a middle-class family and how life is in the tiny, cramped flats of New Delhi (I think it’s New Delhi). There’s a bit of everything in the movie, a love-story in which the lovers win, a family crisis that gets resolved ultimately. But the main story is that of Sanjay Mishra’s character, Bauji. And it’s difficult to decide whether this a coming-of-age tale of an old man, or the tale of a late mid-life crisis. I’d like to think it’s the former, there’s a little more romance to the story that way.

Ankhon Dekhi Poster

Ankhon Dekhi Poster

The setting is spectacular. The lives of the protagonists are unlike the lives you and I have led (well, most of us, anyway). The sense of community of the lower middle-class life is present in almost every scene, in every sub-plot. The characters on the screen offer more than comic relief, they are there for more than just helping the plot move along. When you watch these people on screen and the way they interact, you can only feel that this is an actual, living, thriving little community somewhere. And they share their lives with each other freely, openly and warmly, much as they share their money to pay a doctor. Nothing in the movie feels far-fetched, there are no truly good or truly evil characters. Everyone has shades of grey, and while they seem to be entrenched in each other’s lives, they do also place their own entertainment and opinions above others’, occasionally.

I will not give away plot details, because really, the plot isn’t what sets this movie apart. I’m sure you can read the summary on the Wikipedia article or on other reviews. In a nutshell, the plot is merely there to move the story along, slowly and surely, but it’s interesting enough not to keep you awake keep you invested.

The real star here is the cast and the acting. Every single performance, in my opinion, is perfect, led brilliantly by the believable and perfectly done portrayal of Bauji by Sanjay Mishra. The portrayal of this endearing, yet eccentric, man needs to balance finely between being magical and being realistic. And Sanjay Mishra does that perfectly.  Seema Pahwa, whose only other role in Indian films was in Ferrari ki Sawaari, is outstanding as Amma, the loud, difficult to handle wife of Bauji. As most of the other characters are soft-spoken or sombre, it’s left to her to bring energy and vivacity to the film, and this she does perfectly. She bosses the screen in the scenes that she needs to, overshadowing everyone else in the shot. The rest of the supporting cast do their share, too, and I can’t think of a shortcoming in any of the performances, however short their presence in the movie might have been.

All that’s left to comment on, then, is the ending, which comes as a bolt from the blue; enough to be mentioned in a separate paragraph, but such a twist that saying anything more about it gives the plot away. Actually, no, it doesn’t. Because the ending doesn’t seem like it was tied to the plot at all. Somehow, the director gradually lulls you into a place of comfort, leaving you feeling safe that all’s well that ends well, and everything in this little family will end well. But it doesn’t. I’ve been thinking about why this ending, and I haven’t been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Suffice to say that Rajat Kapoor has done what he wanted to do, without changing anything in the movie for anyone. This seems very much to be a writer/director’s whimsical ending, and heck, perhaps that’s how it should be for a movie about the whims of its protagonist, eh?

A friend of mine read my recent review of Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, and said that she couldn’t figure out if I liked it or not. Well, not to leave anyone in any doubt, I liked this movie. I like that it’s an interesting tale, I like that the setting seems believable and realistic. I like that the story does not pander to the masses, while still retaining a charm that might pull them in anyway. I like the lack of compromise, and more than anything, I love the acting.


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