Pop Vulture

Twin Peaks

Chargesheet is a delicious, demented ride with a slutty line-up of starlets and ageing supremos such as Jackie Shroff and Naseeruddin Shah in very earnest performances

That it was screening at Fame Adlabs, Bombay's first multiplex that is now as gratifyingly derelict as a single theatre, adds to the avant-garde-ness of Chargesheet, Dev Anand's latest directorial venture. And equally delightful is the fact that Warner Brothers has released this marvel: you do see a gilded photograph of warehouses with a post-production ripple as a 'WB' languidly fades into vision. It is no rare feat for a man who clocked two fat ladies last week, complete with a cozy press gathering at the retro Sun-n-Sand hotel in Juhu. The man is 88, but the film is made with the pre-pubescent glee of an 8-year-old; its gaze is obsessed with the breasts of its actresses and the film goes that extra mile to showcase them from all angles.

The plot goes like this: Naseeruddin Shah plays a don who is so intoxicated by the sexual prowess of his moll that he commissions a Rs 100-crore film helmed by a director-writer duo played by Jackie Shroff and Milind Gunaji, the Thomson and Thompson of this whodunit since both have identical moustaches. The moll is thus replaced by Jackie Shroff's muse of many years. The jilted muse invades the film set in Mahabaleshwar and threatens Jackie Shroff and the film's hero with a Preeti Jain-like scandal. Dev Anand plays the muse's brandy-guzzling father-in-law, a retired cop who is trying to convince his truant bahu to leave the sordid world of Bollywood behind her and return to her hubby and abandoned child. He also almost strangles her during this. Then she is shot in the head and the heart in such an incredibly tacky moment that you want to stand up and cheer. Dev Anand, with his fingerprints on the corpse's neck, is logically taken in as a suspect, but he cajoles the Home Minister (in a zombied cameo by Amar Singh) into taking over the investigation. Eventually the real criminal is caught: there is a twist here but don't expect any vertiginous high — there is a snake in the climax that is represented with a Dolby-induced hissing and a coil of plastic in a thatch.
Chargesheet is lit with a childlike fervour — a manic desire to reach out to its audience despite being limited by the technical wherewithal of a college play. It is however the anguish with which the film mimics Bollywood's clichés that gives it the edge. The item numbers are stretched to slutty zeniths; the cleavage of its starlets borders on soft porn levels (the moll, when in jail, has a Blackberry stuck in her bra throughout her interrogation); the gangster's lackey (played by veteran villain Ajit's son) says "Arre, bhai!" as if spoofing the machismo of Ram Gopal Varma's mafia flicks.

Other flourishes abound to make Chargesheet a camp classic: Dubai is represented with a golden bowl replete with grapes, looming above which Naseeruddin Shah makes enraged demands; a side plot in the film features Cham-Cham, a local tramp born and brought up in Mahabaleshwar, who makes a living by busking off cliffs in mini-skirts and revealing tops. The gaggle of extras here to represent Cham-Cham's street audience harks back to the pre-Manish Malhotra era of Bollywood, when extras were never poshed up (i.e. Jaya Bhaduri singing 'Chaku Churiya' to bystanders in Zanjeer comes to mind here). Despite her proclivity for revealing get-ups, Cham-Cham dreams of buying a two-lakh ghagra -choli from a local store (the dress is gorgeously ugly) and making it big as a performer.  She succeeds in the end, giving the film its MTV-style rolling titles over a deliriously enthusiastic ditty. Equally endearing is another star in the film: Mahabaleshwar, the hill station where the bulk of this flick is shot. In these days of 50-crore Spain advertorials and other imagined nationalities, Chargesheet seems a quaint throwback to Pahlaj Nihalani's belle époque, in which couples romanced almost exclusively around a lake in Ooty.

On leaving the theatre, you exit via a maze of tiny shops of the failed Citi Mall, the Chungking Mansion of Oshiwara. In its anorexic alleys, shop vendors languidly take a cigarette break from selling leather bags and baubles, VCDs, and what have you. It won't be a surprise if a VCD of Chargesheet finds its way back to one of the nooks of Citi Mall, once it is pulled out of theatres. But while it is still running, you should be running to watch this unbridled celebration of the spirit of filmmaking, old-school Juhu-style.