Kalpana Lajmi borrows stories from real life. In fact, the identification with her stories is tremendous since a majority of them seem straight out of newspapers or incidents that one may've heard of. Be it RUDAALI, DARMIYAAN, DAMAN or KYON?, her films are, most of the times, thought provoking and seek to uncover issues that are rarely tackled on the big screen.
In CHINGAARI, her latest attempt, Lajmi travels to the heartland of India and presents the story of a prostitute and a postman. Also juxtaposed with the love story are issues that still plague present-day India, like illiteracy, sexual exploitation, fake godmen et al.
Novel concept indeed, but in an effort to strike that right balance between art and commerce, Lajmi trips and what emerges is a film that neither makes you think, nor works as a commercial product. CHINGAARI has a few stimulating sequences, but one sparrow does not a summer make.
CHINGAARI is set in Rangpur, a far and forgotten village in rural India. Lalbatti, a red light den, is the place where night queens crawl out of the dark rooms to make a man's day.
Basanti [Sushmita Sen] is a prostitute, who sells her body but not her soul. Chandan [Anuj Sawhney] is a postman, who along with letters delivers his heart to Basanti. After nights of lust, Basanti finally finds love.
Bhuvan Panda [Mithun Chakraborty] is a demon trapped in a man's body. He's less of a priest, more of a beast. Villagers worship as well as fear him. Wicked as wolf and poisonous as snake, Bhuvan extorts money, sex and power.
The story takes a turn when Bhuvan gets to know that Basanti and Chandan are in love. Bhuvan eliminates Chandan, thus crushing Basanti's pride. A wounded Basanti declares war...
There are two major problems with CHINGAARI. One, a theme like this -- even if it's still happening in some corner of India -- is not exactly the kind of cinema moviegoers prefer watching these days. With urban themes getting precedence, a rural theme, howsoever well made it may be, would appeal to a very thin section of audience.
The second problem is that the story, which could've been narrated in 1.45 hours, is stretched to approx. 2.45 hours [18 reels]. Although a few scenes are deftly executed, more so towards the second half, the impact gets reduced, to a large extent, thanks to its excessive length. Either the editor must've fallen in love with the product or he just doesn't know his job.
Director Kalpana Lajmi attempts an issue pertaining to womenfolk yet again. Like DAMAN tackled issues troubling women, CHINGAARI travels a similar path, with the woman seeking justice in the end. To give credit where it's due, CHINGAARI has some brilliant sequences and topnotch performances. Samples: Mithun making love to Sush for the first time or Sush's outburst when Mithun hints at Sush's daughter Titli and the climax. Applaud-worthy sequences all!
But where Lajmi falters is when she stretches the story endlessly. The romantic sequences between Sush-Anuj lack fizz, while a few scenes depicting Mithun's evil attitude appear fake. In fact, the film can easily be trimmed by 30 minutes or so.
Music [Adesh Shrivastava] is not much of a help. The songs are strictly functional. In fact, a song or two can easily be deleted. However, the background score, towards the climax specifically, is exceptional. Cinematography [Vishal Sinha] is consistent. Dialogues [Kalpana Lajmi], in chaste Hindi as also the Sanskrit shlokas, will not be comprehended easily. Besides, the usage of foul language [in abundance] will not appeal to the family audience.
CHINGAARI serves as a showreel to showcase Sush's prowess and abilities. Always considered a dependable actor in the past, Sush takes giant strides with CHINGAARI. An award-worthy performance, Sush's expressive face speaks volumes. The outburst sequence in the second half is stupendous.
Mithun Chakraborty is in form after a long, long time. The actor gets a role he can sink his teeth into and comes out with flying colors. Anuj Sawhney is highly competent. He matches up to Sush and Mithun at every step. Ila Arun in first-rate. Anjan Srivastav and Ravi Gosai are adequate.
CHINGAARI will just remain a spark [chingaari], not more. At the box-office, the rural theme and the material might appeal to a very thin section of audience [Hindi belt], but in metros and specifically at multiplexes, its business would be dismal.