Film: "John Day"; Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Randeep Hooda, Shernaz Patel, Elena Kazan; Directed by Ahishor Solomon; Rating: *** (three)
This is no place for the weak. This world as we know it. And this film, as we discover with the thrill of chancing upon an unexpected little gem.
Inspired from a Spanish film, is it? I really don't give a fig where writer-director Ahishor Solomon got the raw material for this gripping cat-and-mouse tale. Does the kitchen where the food on the table originates really mean anything? What counts is the quotient of curiosity and suspense simulated by the script. And there, "John Day" ranks very high.
Not for a while have we seen a film so steeped in despair, so swathed in anxiety, so audaciously draped in despair and yet it engages our senses without miring the plot in morbidity.
The story is not for the squeamish. The two main characters are constantly haunted by their irrevocably tragic parts. Naseeruddin Shah and Randeep Hooda, real-life guru and pupil, play people who know no happiness. Incidents from their past continue to shadow and chase their present. There is scarcely a moment in the plot when John (Shah) and Gautam (Hooda) are happy except when they are with their beloved 'Other'.
But then Shernaz Patel, who plays Naseer's wife and the very beautiful foreigner Elena Kazan who plays Randeep girl are troubled by their own ghosts. So where do we go for comfort?
What price, solace?
"John Day" is a restless edgy drama of the doomed and the damned. This not the first time Randeep has played a fugitive shadowed by his own past.But this is certainly his most layered character which he performs with the kind of gravelly gusto that allows us to get only as close to the sullen character as he wants us. Towards the end-game when the momentum gets frenzied beyond recuperation, Randeep's character's softer side emerges.
He has a brilliantly written monologue with a comatose character where we get to know how much this brutal man loves his woman.
Yup, this man can die for money and for love. It's a dichotomous character torn between self-abnegation and vendetta.
In a way Randeep character plays a mirror-image of Naseer's banker gone amok. This is not the first time that India's most vaunted actor has played a wizened common man pushed to a corner by the monstrous corruption in out socio-political system.
Remember Neeraj Pathak's "A Wednesday"? Here In "John Day" the terror that Naseer's character battles is far more personal, and hence in many ways, much more moving and compelling. His greatness as an actor doesn't come in the way of letting the character of the common man have his say in the most natural way possible.
It is very difficult to speak out openly about the characters and their motivations without giving away the plot. "John Day" is the kind of clenched yarn that makes you forget that yawning distance between cinema and the audience. You become one with the character's battles, without getting judgemental over their actions.
Some of the things that the characters do are unmistakably brutal. An innocent woman's head is shattered by a hammer, a man's tongue is bitten off and another man's neck is also bitten off. It's a cold brutal world with no comic relief, at least none where you laugh out loud at the ironies of life.
"John Day" brings the indomitable Naseeruddin and the intriguing Randeep for a taut cat-and-mouse chase that stays a step ahead of the audience right till the shattering end-game.
While the two principal actors get under their characters' skins, other actors seem equally at home in this inky kingdom of greed and gluttony. Vipin Sharma and Makrand Despande are very engaging in their supporting parts. They make doom seem anything but dull. But the film's third hero is Sandeep Chowta's background score. It creates a world of emotions beyond the spoken words for Naseer and Randeep.
This is a world where there is no escape from sorrow and grief. Enemies are clobbered and butchered mercilessly. Not because they deserve to die. But because life is as randomly brutal as we make it for ourselves. And cinema such as this reminds us that moral values of good, evil, justice and comeuppance mean nothing to those who have nothing to lose.
For a film about losers "John Day" proves to be a paradoxically profitable movie-viewing experience for the audience.