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'Aurangzeb': Mesmering, well-cast family drama of flawed people

Subhash K. Jha
17 May 2013

Film: Aurangzeb; Starring: Arjun Kapoor, Prithviraj, Rishi Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Amrita Singh, Swara Bhaskara, Sasheh Agha, Tanve Azmi; Directed by Atul Sabharwal; Rating: ****

Sapna se badaa apna hota hai...It's okay to sacrifice one's dreams for the sake of those you love. This is a recurrent thought in this hard-hitting family drama about fatally flawed people who flock together, in search of a happiness that is snatched from them by a fate far more cruel and savage than what we generally see as destiny.

The destiny that seems to underline the lives of writer-director Atul Sabharwal's drama of family feuds is as flawed as it is rich in resonances. And why not! Perfection is as boring as it is unbelievable. Sabharwal spreads out a hectic hefty horizon of dark grey black and ominously immoral people who share a common genealogy but are not afraid to kill one another for personal gains.

Welcome to the world of unstoppable ambitions. Half-realized dreams thread their way through Sabharwal's intricate plot, much like those gigantic cement-mortar-glass skyscrapers that kiss the sky in half-constructed questionable glory in the film's excellently-composed frames. The cinematography by N. Karthik Gnaesh provides a panoramic view of Gurgaon's super-affluent landscape. It also provides us an insight into the anxious souls of half-finished lives trapped in the mirage of their absurd aspirations.

Each moment in "Aurangzeb" tells a heartbreaking story of betrayal and bloodshed, of men and women who have forsaken a life of peaceful sleep to pursue wakeful dreams that leave them famished and restless.

At first "Aurangzeb" seems plotted with too many twists and turns. And then as you watch the tale of twin bothers (Arjun Kapoor, very much in character) and a stepbrother, played by Prithiviraj, who turns out to be the moral foundation of this empire of compulsions, you fall into the rhythm patterns of Sabharwal's quiet volatile and implosive storytelling.

The film's grand design subsumes a scintillating galaxy of memorable moments. Nothing in the film is what it seems. There are illegitimate relationships and business interests jostling with their more constitutional counterparts. The twins-device serves as a vivid indication of the moral ambiguities that undercore the world of corporate deals.

Supreme power and supreme wealth are what the characters seek in this film. Funny, how they end up nullified or dead at the end. None more so that the all-powerful cop played by Rishi Kapoor. A closet-extortionist, this powerful policeman's family-mafia runs parallel to Jackie Shroff's vast empire of drugs and other criminal activities.

Arjun Kapoor crosses comfortably into both the nefarious kingdoms. Playing the traditional 'Ram Aur Shyam' game, he seems to nail the brotherly mirror-image into a slide show of shifting loyalties. It's a compelling double whammy from an actor who made a sizeable impact with his first film last year.

Prithviraj who made his Hindi debut with the disastrous "Aiyya" last year, springs a stunning surprise as Arjun's half-brother. He is the voice of this vast plot's nebulous conscience. It's finally Prithviraj who redeems the film's shifting moral values to recover a moral centre for a world that seems to spin out of control with its penchant for power and greed for wealth.

I've to make mention of the very talented Swara Bhaskara who plays Prithiviraj's wife. The super-talented girl has just two brief sequences. But she wrenches your heart. Tanve Azmi's motherly act has its moments. Amrita Singh as a scheming she-devil is the traditional home-breaker. It's a stereotypical bad-girl role, given a reined-check by the actress' ingrained grace. Sasheh Agha in a role clearly inspired by Parveen Babi in Yash Chopra's "Deewaar" is cast in a role that deserved a far better actress.

Atul Sabharwal's direction bears ruminative remnants of the mighty filmmaking legacy of Yash Chopra and Mani Ratnam. The script outwardly sounds like a potboiler about the shifting equation between the legitimate and the outcast. But the tone adapted to tell this potboiler tale is authentic, underplayed and constantly credible. It's as if Manmohan Desai suddenly decided go the way Shayam Benegal did in "Kalyug".

The film is a marvel of impeccable casting. Every actor gives his best, none more so than Rishi Kapoor who as the illimitably corrupt cop pulls off yet another masterly antagonist's part.

"Aurangzeb" springs many unexpected surprises. It is a work which doesn't shy away from screaming silences and penetrating whispers. The softspoken words delivered in a natural even pitch is often so far-reaching in their implications that we keep returning to the dialogues much after the characters have spoken them and moved on.

Yes, much in "Aurangzeb" is imperfect. The ambivalent tone of authenticity in a plot that seems inpired by the melodramatic blockbusters of the 1970s is really an exercize in self-indulgence. It's as if the director wants to prove his intellectual superiority over the material he has chosen to deconstruct. But the contradictory tone somehow works in a way we've never seen before.

Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi becomes a hotbed of intrigue and drama. But underneath the conspiracies and the killings is a tragic tale of blood unnecessarily spilt for advantages that finally mean zilch in the absence of loved ones to share the loot with.

"Aurangzeb" has an epic sweep to its storytelling. But it's also an intimate portrait of family values gone to waste. It is really the sound of stifled sobs that we carry home of characters who thought they knew it all only to realize at the end that they somewhere lost track of their inner self in pursuit of distant dreams.

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