Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Sanjay Mishra, Pankaj Tripathy
Director: Avinash Das
Bollywood has seldom made any attempt to base its stories on the marginalised. Or very rarely, takes up the cause of the community of run-of-the-mill variety of people who work hard, strive to make both ends meet, yet when it is the question of granting them the honour to live respectfully, the society treats them like dirt. Take some musicians who sing and dance for a living. We don’t get to see much of their authentic representation on celluloid. In fact, in cinema, mostly in Hindi, the naach gaana bit is either so hyped that it looks unreal, at other times, when a bold filmmaker sets out to tell a story of these unrefined men and women, it’s always in an off-mainstream genre that eludes the regular moviegoers from going anywhere near them. Anarkali of Arrah is debutant Avinash Das’ bold attempt too. But it’s not something that should keep the popcorn- and coke lovers of multiplex visitors away: It throws light on the lewd and rigid nexus between the powerful (politicians, policemen) and some of the lowly deprived category of earners who struggle hard to earn respect.
Anarkali (Swara Bhaskar) has taken over the role that her dancer-mother had all along performed: that of an erotic dancer in the small hamlet of Arrah in Bihar. In shockingly tragic circumstances, her mother was shot dead during a performance by an inebriated neta, who cared to flaunt his rifle as she pirouetted on stage. Anarkali has inherited all her mother’s talent for dance and music, which she clearly hones every day as her choir of musicians gathers at her place for rehearsals. She makes full use of her sexuality to woo men and has the entire Arrah eating out of her hand. Her world is a fun ride with no fear whatsoever of her ever grappling with the law; she is a stern, hard-headed fluff few would dare to antagonise. She is supported by Rangeela (Pankaj Tripathy), who besides acting as her manager, carries a torch for her. But make no mistake, neither Anarkali nor Rangeela are in this profession because they have been forced to: it’s out of her own free will that she turned to singing those loud spicy lewd songs. Rangeela too, is more of an unscrupulous Man Friday, but thanks to his secret admiration for this star performer of their troupe, he too, like everybody else, is confident of her success, and would never leave her.
Things turn ugly as a crooked, dishonest policeman (Sanjay Mishra) by way of right to his power and position, stakes a claim to Anarkali’s body. And being. That too, publicly, while she was performing live on stage. Even when she staves him off rather forcibly, he would have none of her refusal to oblige him. In fact, that infuriates him so much that he looks all the more determined. We have all marvelled the tenacity with which the single-mindedness of the recent Shoojit Sircar’s film Pink emphatically reminded us of the “No” that any male must follow when a female means it. Here too, this hinterland is without its frills of any city’s urbane sophistication. But despite its women playing subservient roles to men folk, the plucky and fearless Anarkali shows what self-respect translates into for her: Didn’t she say a firm “No”? That it comes from a low-grade woman is something that neither the police nor the common people ever get to comprehend. Das’ script unabashedly throws light on some of these men and women who may be considered crass by other city-bred dwellers, and gives them their meaningful gravitas too. These commoners who strive to go all out to do the utmost to eke out a living, but all they get in return is disrespect from all and sundry.
Anarkali is crude. Her partners are often blundering opportunists. Together they make a formidable team. But should that be a reason for others to take them for a ride? Throughout the account of Anarkali, there are scenes and dialogues that could be straight out of any boorish uncouth occupants of a rustic shanty. And therein lies the realistic feel to storytelling. Music plays an integral part of the film with lilting songs and bawdy lyrics catching your attention. Not your typical arrangement, the orchestration too, is made to be a trifle jarring in tune with the theme of the film. But the film never looks too “adult” perhaps, for the fear of the censors’ axe could guard morality that could befall any scene, line or film’s dialogues these days. Swara Bhaskar finally lands up with a role that she could sink her teeth into. Right from her gait to the way she reacts and fleshes out her character with the necessary coarseness, she is thoroughly impressive. Pankaj Tripathi has always been dependable but his role looks underwritten midway as he disappears from the film. All others in the cast like Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Kumar, Mayur More, Ishteyak Khan and Nitin Arora are cast perfectly and deserve to be seen more often. The only thing that jars in the film is the too-eager-to-confront-anyone attitude that Anarkali possesses. Could an unpolished woman display so much nerve and bravado? May be not, but then Anarkali does get it back when she dares to defy.