Some stories intrigue you. And if they happen to borrow from real life, the curiosity to watch the screen adaptation only enhances considerably. More so if the story talks of the stormy and tumultuous relationship between a scheming politician, who aspires to be the Chief Minister of a North India state and a political journalist, who aspires to achieve the star status in her field of work. Now add love, lust, conspiracy, scams, deception and murder to the plotline and what emerges is a piece of work that stands apart from stories that we are habituated to watching on the Hindi screen.
Come to think of it, the trend of female actors essaying the part of a journo on the Hindi screen isn't new. Right from Sridevi [MR INDIA] to Dimple Kapadia [KRANTIVEER] to Juhi Chawla [PHIR BHI DIL HAI HINDUSTANI] to Preity Zinta [LAKSHYA] to Konkona Sen Sharma [PAGE 3] to Deepal Shaw [A WEDNESDAY] to Kangna Ranaut [KNOCK OUT] to Rani Mukerji recently [NO ONE KILLED JESSICA], the fearless media person has been witnessed in varied avtaars. But the part Divya Dutta portrays in MONICA is a tad different from the ones mentioned above.
MONICA is not just about a media person, but also looks at the various roles that she portrayed in her life - wife of an alcoholic, mother of an illegitimate child, a go-getter, ambitious woman who "has the access to the pants of a powerful politician" [that's a dialogue from the film] and finally, a woman scared for her life... How she gets caught in a vicious game of murky politics, becomes a fugitive, besides a mental wreck before she is brutally murdered, makes the story smoking hot. In fact, the film clearly illustrates that ambitions are not only limited to men; even women can be overly ambitious.
Supposedly seeking inspiration from real-life scams and controversies, MONICA depicts the transformation of a small-town school girl, a victim of child abuse while watching a movie [QAYAMAT SE QAYAMAT TAK] at a theatre in Lucknow, to a thick-skinned media person, who has no qualms of sleeping with a powerful politician as also a lady industrialist to achieve her goals. The various episodes in her stormy life have been told in a rather unusual manner by director Sushen Bhatnagar. Of course, a few vital chunks are missing, but the narrative keeps you hooked for most parts.
Lucknow - the city where she lived and returned to die. Very early in her life, Monica [Divya Dutta] had learnt that there are only two categories of people: the exploiter and the exploited. But Monica was not ready to toe the line. She was prepared to barter. She married Raj Jaitley [Rajit Kapoor] for love. She cajoled Aseem Ray [Tinnu Anand] for position. She seduced Pamela Garewal [Kittu Gidwani] for power. She surrendered to Chandrakant Pandit [Ashutosh Rana] for all this and more. But did Monica get what she deserved?
Director Sushen Bhatnagar doesn't really follow the conventional path of narrating the story. He goes back and forth, peeping into Monica's life through a lawyer [Yashpal Sharma] in the courtroom. Which means, one has to be very, very attentive and alert when it comes to observing what actually transpired in her life. Deftly handled with several brilliantly penned and executed sequences, Sushen handles the subject with extreme sincerity and commitment. The courtroom scenes in particular are deftly executed.
But, like I pointed out at the outset, the film stumbles at a few places. A solid reason that caused a rift between Ashutosh Rana and Divya Dutta is clearly missing. Weren't they attached to each other, so how come they become sworn enemies all of a sudden? That vital link is just not there. Besides, through Sushen's execution of the subject is first-rate, the innumerable flashbacks put you off after a point. A linear, simplified way of narrating the story would've only enhanced the overall impact.
Besides skilful direction, I'd like to point out two more departments where this film scores. Chandan Goswami's cinematography is top notch. The frames are wonderful and not just the beauty of Nainital, but the beauty of Lucknow are skillfully captured on celluloid. Also, the written lines - the dialogue [Sushen Bhatnagar] - are razor-sharp. Especially the one when Yateen Karyekar and Divya Dutta have a heated argument. It's hair-raising! The background score [Raju Rao] is alright.
When you cast powerful actors such as Ashutosh Rana and Divya Dutta, you expect nothing but the best. Ashutosh conveys a lot through his eyes. He's as cool as cucumber even in the toughest of situations, which is the hallmark of a really fine actor. Divya adds yet another fine performance to her rich repertoire. Her makeover deserves mention, but more than styling, it's her performance and the varied emotions she expresses that stay with you much after the screening has ended. I genuinely feel that the industry hasn't tapped the potential of both Ashutosh and Divya.
Rajit Kapoor, though a talented name, is surprisingly theatrical this time. He just doesn't look convincing. The supporting cast lends admirable support. Dadhi Pandey, as Ashutosh Rana's confidante, is excellent. Tinnu Anand is in perfect sync with his character. Kittu Gidwani is just right. Yashpal Sharma delivers yet another super performance. Kunika does very well. Yateen Karyekar is admirable. Saurabh Dubey [Ashutosh Rana's rival politician] is superb. Ashish Kapoor [the killer] leaves an impression in a brief role.
On the whole, MONICA may miss the bus for two reasons - lack of face-value and as good as zilch hype. Yet, one cannot ignore the fact that it's a well-made film that does justice to the plot. It's a film that should find appreciation from connoisseurs of cinema. Give this film a chance, it will surprise you!