Most makers just talk of attempting hatke stories. But, in actuality, only a tiny segment practice what they preach. And those who walk the untrodden path deserve not just laurels but also need to be encouraged for swimming against the tide.
Sanjay Gupta's MUSAFIR is a shining example of cinema that dares to be different, of going against the set norms, of defying the rigid set of laws of Bollywood formulaic films. In a way, MUSAFIR reflects the transition of Hindi cinema, the changing face of Indian cinema.
MUSAFIR is loosely based on Oliver Stone's U-TURN [1997; Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton], but it's NOT a scene-to-scene copy of the much-acclaimed flick.
In MUSAFIR, Gupta explores new territory, giving the material a stark edge, innovation and a thick, memorable atmosphere. In KAANTE, he explored gambling, mistrust, deception, fraud, money. This time around, it's an almost original tale that's not contrived or recycled. In this film, he delves into infidelity, incest, ill luck, paranoia, mistrust, murder, deception, fraud, money and the mafia. It's a feast for the senses, as long as you have a strong stomach.
MUSAFIR scores on various levels. Not only is its story different - a novel experience for Indian moviegoers - even its making is several notches above the ordinary. Provocative and graphic, MUSAFIR examines the mind of several immoral men - a lane not many 'play safe' Bollywood film-makers would want to venture into.
Lucky [Anil Kapoor] had had enough of change. From odd jobs to petty crimes. From home addresses to jail addresses. He wanted a house of his own? a family... a new beginning.
One last con-job, girlfriend [Koena Mitra] in tow, sunset in background, and he would be well on his way.
Twenty-four hours later, he's been betrayed by his girlfriend, hunted by a drug lord [Sanjay Dutt], orphaned by the death of his three partners and sent to Goa to do a drug deal to buy his life back.
Lucky pulls of a drug deal, chases a femme fatale with a shocking past [Sameera Reddy], manages to lose the drug lord's money yet again, is hounded by a corrupt cop [Aditya Pancholi] and gets offered the same amount by a perverted husband [Mahesh Manjrekar], who offers him a contract killing.
Under siege and racing the clock, a deadly battle of wits ensues in a climax filled with spiraling tension and volatile action.
The narrative moves in a serpentine fashion, rarely proceeding in a predictable zone. Just when you thought that Anil and Koena would embark on an interesting journey at the very start of the film, he's betrayed big time. That's the first twist in the tale!
Anil reaches Goa, encounters Sameera, meets her husband [Manjrekar], who in turn gives him an outrageous and deplorable proposal: Eliminate his wife Sameera. That's the second twist in the tale!
Anil concludes the drug deal, is hounded by the cop [Pancholi], hides the money in a nearby-stationed cab and loses it all in a matter of minutes? That's the third twist in the tale!
Anil meets Manjrekar again, who renews his proposal. Anil hears his side of the story. Then he meets Sameera. Hears her side of the story as well. Whose plan will he execute eventually? But a bizarre, unanticipated development changes everything? That's the fourth twist in the tale!
Anil and Sameera are on the run. The drug lord is chasing Anil. He wants his money back. The cop is chasing Anil and more specifically Sameera. He wants his money back? That's the fifth twist in the tale!
Gupta and his efficient team of screenplay writers [Sameer Malhotra and Venita Coelho] have populated MUSAFIR with not just a variety of multi-dimensional characters, but also twists and turns that are bound to come as a shocker to the traditional Indian audiences who have grown up on the staple diet of sugar-coated romances and feel-good cinema. The characters in MUSAFIR are as harsh as can be.
Any blemishes in an otherwise perfect film? Yes?
The pace drops in the post-interval portions. Just when your heart is thumping hard and your eyes are glued to the screen, comes a sad song ['Zindagi Mein Koi Kabhi Aaye Na Rabba'] and an unwanted scene [Sameera's nightmare] and the story comes to a screeching halt. It throws a spanner in an otherwise absorbing screenplay.
The song in question is undoubtedly a brilliant composition and its filming has an international feel, but the song placement is all wrong. Who wants to hum a song when life is on the edge? When survival is so uncertain? This song should be chopped off pronto, for it only acts as a speed breaker in an otherwise exhilarating flick.
Even the climax, although brilliantly executed, is flawed. Why on earth would the money-crazy drug lord [Billa] give away his money so easily, when the story is all about Billa wanting his money from Lucky? The film could've definitely done with a better thought of ending.
Directorially, there's no denying that Sanjay Gupta is a fantastic technician and of late, an accomplished storyteller. MUSAFIR is the most stylish film Bollywood has witnessed in 2004, but MUSAFIR is not just style, but offers substance as well. The content of the film may come as a shocker for the conventional types or those who haven't progressed beyond saas-bahu fares.
Sex is another ingredient that Gupta uses liberally in the film. It's raw, but smartly and tastefully woven in the narrative. A feast for the hoi polloi. Another area where Gupta wins hands down is choosing the right lines for his characters. The dialogues [Milap Zaveri], again raw, have tremendous mass appeal and would be loved by the viewers.
Vishal-Shekhar's music is another aspect that deserves browny points. 'Ishq Kabhi Kariyo Na', 'Saaki Saaki' and 'Door Se Paas' are already popular and when viewed with the story, the appeal is only enhanced. In terms of picturization, the Koena Mitra track, 'O Sharabi Kya Sharabi - Saaki Saaki', is the most erotic number the year has witnessed so far.
Cinematography [P.S. Vinod] is of international quality. The black and white inserts, usage of hand-held camera, vivid close-ups, zip-switches from smooth to grainy, unique camera angles and effects give the film a chic and modish look. Action [Tinu Verma] is realistic and that works greatly in a film like this.
MUSAFIR is embellished with some great performances, but the film clearly belongs to Anil Kapoor. No two opinions on that! The actor ignites the screen with an authoritative performance. It wouldn't be wrong to state that the film signals the resurgence of this extremely talented actor. His unshaven look, the gamut of expressions, the effort that has gone into this performance is exemplary. This is without doubt his best performance so far!
Sanjay Dutt is not on the front seat this time, but his character is the type that would draw ceetees and taalis from the masses. Yet, all said and done, the writers should've focused more on Dutt in the post-interval portions mainly. But the actor's screen presence [note the sidelocks extending to his beard] will prove one fashion statement in days to come.
Sameera Reddy is a revelation. The actress handles a complex role with flourish and the generous dose of skin show only act as a topping. Mahesh Manjrekar emerges trumps yet again in a Sanjay Gupta film. He is excellent! Aditya Pancholi is first-rate; his mean look gelling well with his character.
Koena Mitra has a great body and she has no inhibitions when it comes to flaunting it. As an actress, she's slightly awkward, but frankly, this role doesn't demand histrionics, so it's okay. Shakti Kapoor is wasted.
On the whole, MUSAFIR has style and substance. At the box-office, the film has already taken a flying start and a heady dose of violence and sex, besides a catch-you-unaware plot, will take it to the winning post.