Director: Prakash Jha
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar, Bipasha Basu, Mohan Agashe, Yashpal Sharma, Dayashankar Pandey, Anoop Soni, Mukesh Tiwari
“Gandhi mat bano aaj ke zamaane mein, bada disturbance ho jaata hai” is what Ajay is asked to tell his father, Mohan Agashe, the lone figure holding on to the Gandhian flag in Prakash Jha’s vision of Bihar as an increasingly regressive social and political reality. Where only one police officer dares to raise his voice, only to have it silenced by forces who know only too well how to, whether it’s in Bengal or Bihar.
The darkening of vision is not surprising, for between GangaaJal (2003) and Apaharan, Jha himself contested the 2004 elections as an independent candidate from Bettiah in West Champaran, and there’s nothing better than an Indian election to open even the seen-all eyes to the murk in our lives as we go about life muttering in Brownian bliss, God’s in heaven and all’s fine with the world.
A world Ajay tried to change as the crusading IPS officer in GangaaJal. Lost is the idealism and revolutionary zeal that had motivated a demoralised and debauched police force in the small town in Tejpur to team up with him. Apaharan shows a Ajay lost and frustrated by a system that fails him at every stage. An Ajay hopelessly sucked into the chakravyuha of Bihar politics, which has an entry, but no exit.
Though cinematically, it’s far less raw than his earlier films. Much less brutal than GangaaJal, whose depiction of the blindings of Bhagalpur criminals in the police lock-up can never be forgotten. Even Mrinalini Sharma’s item number is a tame affair, compared to the raunchy item in GangaaJal, and fizzles out halfway through, which is just as well.
For, every time Jha shifts his focus from the apaharan drama, in which everyone from the highest political level to the street corner paanwala is involved, one gets impatient that he’s not getting back to the point from where he began. The powerful beginning, to an extent, loses its steam in the emotional scenes that follow between Ajay and Mohan, developed along the Amitabh and Dilip scenes in Shakti.
But the hard-hitting Jha recovers fast enough, especially as Nana takes over from Ajay who, good though he is, looks much too old to play the role of a struggling beginner. And when Nana and Ajay skip the rope together, it’s on Nana our focus remains. Back after a long gap, his eyes still speak volumes, his half-smiles and smirks say a lot more than words can.
And if you are wondering about the number of words Bipasha speaks, well, they are very much countable.