“Just before the elections, I want two riots. I’ll back the non-Hindus but also target them” says politician Vikas Patil (Milind Soman) to Shriram Lagoo, a veteran riot fixer. Politics is a dirty business. We know this by now. And the news channels, news stories and movies keep reminding us of this regularly. Yet the casual manner in which Soman tells Lagoo to incite riots is chilling and tells us that a thing like this maybe usual business for politicians. It also makes us more cynical and bitter about the things happening around us. A similar sense of cynicism and anger is felt by Shyam Jagdale (Sachin Khedekar) – an idealistic editor of a newspaper named Nagrik and the protagonist of the film. The film tells the story of Jagdale’s helpless battle to fight the increasing corruption around him.
The film incorporates several sub plots with diverse characters and narrates it from Jagdale’s point of view. Besides Soman and Lagoo, other characters such as the newly-appointed chief minister (Dilip Prabhavalkar), a labourer (Rajkumar Tangde), a social worker (Neena Kulkarni) and her idealistic aide (Nitin Bhajan) and a shrewd builder Chaurasiya (Rajesh Sharma) form a crucial part of the story.
The story of good vs. evil will always be relevant and has been narrated since time immemorial. Several films such as Shool, Ghayal, Ardh Satya have narrated these tales with finesse and elan. Moreover Ram Gopal Varma’s Rann (which ranks as one of his better films in recent times) also narrated the tale of an idealistic media baron’s (Amitabh Bachchan) attempts to retain his ethics in these increasingly corrupt times. The challenge then lies in narrating an often told tale with a fresh approach. In this aspect, Nagrik succeeds to a large extent.
Unlike films of the west, subtlety and realism in political films made in India is often missing. Politicians in our films are either extremely good or totally corrupt. Often the approach to political films is theatrical with characters that are generally exaggerated or caricatured. Thankfully, Nagrik steers clear of such an approach. Most characters shown in the film have shades of grey which makes them realistic and identifiable. The character of Sriram Lagoo – the veteran riot fixer, who is quite disturbed by his past actions and haunted by the untimely death of his son, is a great example of the same. Even the positive characters such as that of Neena Kulkarni have been presented in the right way without being too preachy or idealistic.
The film uses silence and visuals very effectively to depict important plot points and character transitions. Due to this, many scenes deliver a solid impact. Desai also uses the same technique and effectively establishes the complex social structures, the claustrophobic and diverse life style prevalent in the city of Mumbai.
But the one thing that’s missing in the film is a highpoint or moments that catch the viewer unaware. Surely, a moment or two do surprise you, but they aren’t as shocking or hard hitting as one would expect them to be. Had there been more such moments, it surely would have been a more impactful film.
Sambhaji Bhagat‘s(who also wrote and composed the songs in Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court) folk songs are used well and help in summing up the conscience and critical situations of the film effectively. The film has an assemblage of some of the best technicians including Resul Pookutty (sound design) and Bhanu Athaiya (Costume Design) who have put their best foot forward. Resul Pookutty and Amrit Pritam have done a splendid job in capturing the sounds of the chaos that prevails in the city.
Devendra Golatkar ‘s cinematography captures the claustrophobia of the city remarkably through the Ganpati processions, the sea shores, the footpath dwellers, the skyrise buildings and many other things that defines the city of Mumbai . The background score is in sync with the intense proceedings of the film, though it could certainly have been restrained at a few places.
While most of the actors are efficient, it is Sriram Lagoo’s performance that leaves the biggest impact. Age surely has taken a toll on the veteran actor, but not on his acting abilities.
Despite the drawbacks, Nagrik is a film that leaves you largely satisfied and tells us a lot about the commendable efforts put in by director Jaypraad Desai and his team. And it surely is a film worth recommending.