GULAAL (2009)

  • Release Date : 13/3/2009
  • Cast : Raj Singh Choudhary, Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava, Ayesha Mohan, Jesse Randhawa, Piyush Mishra, Pankaj Jha.
  • Director : Anurag Kashyap
  • Written By: Anurag Kashyap, Raj Singh Choudhury
  • Music : Piyush Mishra

Gulaal is one of those hindi films that I have watched probably the most number of times. There is just something hypnotic about the story and treatment that is hard to miss or not be mesmerized by. The performances, the manner in which the film shapes up and the dynamics between the characters is as such that no matter how many times I see this film, I don’t think I am ever going to be bored of it. It also has to be mentioned that no matter how many times I watch this film, I will never be able to fully put my fingers on what it is that is so captivating about this film. It’s one of those surreal experiences that are rare in a highly formulaic Bollywood landscape.

Let me start off by trying to summarize the plot of the film. Dilip (Raj Singh Choudhary) arrives in what is evidently Rajasthan to study Law. He is a post graduate but still wishes to pursue Law. He takes up a rented apartment with Rananjay (Abhimanyu Singh) who happens to be the heir of the king but is totally disgusted with his princely status. He resents his father and lives the life of a recluse. He strikes up a good friendship with Dilip and when Dilip ends up being a victim of brutal ragging, he takes him to Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) for retribution.

Dukey is the local chieftain of the Rajputs and wants to make Rajputana in the image of what it was before independence and is willing to pay any price for it. He sets his eyes on the university elections to make his presence felt and makes Rananjay the candidate of Rajputana for competing in the election. When Rananjay is killed, he turns his attention to Dilip who is literally forced to take up the mantle.

Karan Singh (Aditya Srivastava) and Kiran Singh (Ayesha Mohan) are illegitimate children of Rananjay’s father, the king. Karan sees himself as the next chieftain of the Rajputana while Kiran wants to be the GS of the University. They both realize that the only way to whitewash their illegitimacy and the insults that come with it is to grasp power and make use of it in their own favor. While Karan starts chipping away at Dukey Bana who stands in the way of him becoming the chieftain, Kiran starts controlling Dilip to rob him of his rank and become the GS herself.

In addition to all this, we have Anuja (Jesse Randhawa), a victim of brutal ragging herself who falls for Dilip but is unable to express her feelings for him. Then there is Jarhwal (Pankaj Jha), the leader of the opposition to the Rajputana in the university who is not only brutal but also lecherous. Last but not the least, we have Dukey’s elder brother Prithvi (Piyush Mishra), who everyone thinks is crazy but who seems to be the only sane person in the midst of all the chaos.

Gulaal is a highly layered narrative that is surprisingly easy to follow. I got the film on the first watch but still kept going back to it for more and more and the film never disappointed me. The performances and the manner in which it unfolds are probably two of the major reasons for that. Take for instance the character of Dilip. Raj Singh Choudhary brings an extremely soft and vulnerable feel to the character who starts to change in Rananjay’s company. As the film progresses, he metamorphs into a character that literally brings down the whole house. He is who he is as a result of the people around him. The manner in which these people affect him made me stand up and take notice. Rananjay taught him to be self-sure, he experienced a semblance of romantic love in Anuja’s presence but her inability to get intimate (after her ordeal) breaks Dilip away from her and brings him close to Kiran with whom he shares a sexually charged relationship. In addition to all this, the influence of Dukey on him cannot be ignored. He is afraid of him but at the same time he shows flashes of anger and ability to break free from his control that add so much to his character. Dilip is a product of his environment and Choudhury paints a wonderful picture of the character.

Dukey, on the other hand, wants Rajputana. He wants the old times back and he wants it so bad that he would do anything for it. Yeah! he does lap up the luxury that comes his way in the form of money and women but his primary objective is always the re-establishment of Rajputana. His one point agenda and his craze for it make him an interesting character who affects the dynamics of every other character in the film.

Karan and Kiran are just as inspired to make their existence legitimate and their craze for power is propelled by this very desire and also the insults with which they have grown up. Thus as the audience, we are able to identify with them. They both show a lot of courage as well as an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses which were delightful to watch. I just loved the manner in which Kiran manipulated Dilip into doing her will. It was a masterstroke. Ayesha Mohan did a fabulous job with the character. Aditya Srivastava is an Anurag Kashyap regular and here again he proves why.

From what I learned from some reliable and unreliable sources, Gulaal was shot on weekends over a long period of time. The film had nearly no budget and most of the actors did it not for the money but because they believed in the film and their respective characters. For a film made in that kind of a way, it felt extremely coherent and I couldn’t find any lapses anywhere in terms of continuity and feel. It’s a tense, gripping and entertaining drama that never for once lets you drift away.

I generally don’t mention the music of a film but here I cannot help but bring up the topic. The background score, as well as the tracks, add so much to certain sequences that it’s practically impossible to envision these sequences without the music or score. Piyush Mishra who also plays an important part in the film got the feel of the narrative just right and his score is in strong keeping with that feel. My favorite tracks from the film are “Aarambh” and “Duniya”.

This film is bound to find mention in any list of great Indian Films. Its value increased for me many folds in the last few years thanks to the 100-crore club films that have over the years pulled down Indian films to an all-time low. Just to see a film like this exist in today’s time fills me up with hope. It has everything that characterizes a Bollywood film. It has songs, it has dances, it has some action, it has romance and it has drama. But it never tends to stoop down to the level that has become a Bollywood norm these days calling itself masala-mass entertainers. Gulaal is a ravishing entertainer and it has all the masala that you can ask for but it is a well-made, sensible and enticing film that brings to the fore all that is best about Bollywood.

Rating : 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)

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