In his movie career Sushant Singh Rajput did only 12 feature films; among them were some everlasting gems. Here is my pick of India’s James Dean’s 5 performances.
1. Kai Po Che (2013): Take a bow, Abhishek Kapoor. You proved that Rock On was no flash in the pan. Kai Po Che takes the theme of friendship to another level. Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge, indeed. Sometimes the best of friendships get swept away in politics and history. It takes a master storyteller to remind us that cinema is finally a mirror of forces which have a bearing on life. Kai Po Che just tempts me to tell the escapist merchants of Bollywood to go fly a kite.As for Sushant Singh Rajput, the script favours his character. And he repays the compliment right back, with bonus. With his compelling screen presence and an ability to render restless energy in a restrained pattern, Sushant immediately establishes himself as one of the most articulate actors of the post-Ranbir Kapoor generation. We can say about Sushant that a star is born without the risk of having to eat back our words later on.
2. MS Dhoni - The Untold Story (2016): Sushant was Brilliant. The Film was not. There is nothing ‘Untold’ in this 3 hour-plus sprawling paean to one of the most iconic cricketers of our times. All we see for what seems like an eternity of playing-time are scene after scene from Dhoni’s life and career. All these incidents have been in the public domain for as long as we can remember. Dhoni the, ahem, Untold Story goes through the cricketer’s life chapter by chapter. This is not a film. It’s a book. A biography masquerading as a film. So prosaic that it makes the poetry in the songs played in the background, seem redundant. This is an authorized biography, if you will, since the Legend himself imprints his signature on every frame, and that includes the actor who plays Dhoni on screen. Sushant Singh Rajput is so ferociously correct in assuming Dhoni’s personality you wonder how he got so much feeling into the batting.Playing out Dhoni’s aspiration on an even pitch, imbuing warmth credibility and authenticity to Dhoni’s persona. Sushant’s physical transformation displaying different stages of Dhoni’s life is astonishing. What would MS Dhoni - The Untold Storyhave been without Sushant Singh Rajput?
3. Sonchiriya (2019): Director Abhishek Chaubey uses eerie silences in the stunning Chambal landscape to punctuate a sense of excruciating oppression, the vile viscosity of the environment, thick with suggestions and manifestation of violence. In this world of apocalyptic despair, Sushant Singh Rajput’s Lakhna decides to rid his guilty conscience of its inexorable burden by helping a woman to protect and heal a brutally raped girl-child. I wish the relationship between Lakhna and the ravaged girl was given more space to grow. But then where is the room for relationships to breathe when men are constantly on the run, and not just from the law? I wished for Lakhna and Indumati’s bonding over the child to end in some semblance of joy. But wishes cannot be horses. Not in a dacoit drama without a single horse in sight. In fact, there is a joke in the film about how Hindi films show dacoits galloping away when in fact there are no horses in the Chambal Valley. There are no heroes either. Only victims posing manfully with guns that kill not just human beings. But also hope. I came away with two heroes in Sonchiriya. The little brutalized girl from whom the film gets its title, whose devastated eyes still secrete a smile after all she has gone through. Some hope! And cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan whose lenses render bleakness into myriad shades of life lived on the edge. Raw, gritty and compelling, Sonchiriyaconveys a clandestine narrative style that never impinges on the violent disarray of the characters’ brutal unpredictable lives.
4 Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (2015): Somehow Hindi cinema never got down to doing a real murder mystery before this. Maybe the genre waited to be cracked by the deftly disingenuous Dibakar Bannerjee. To get to the bottom of that mystery- of why the murder mystery never came to fruition before this - we must wait for the film on the desecration of the whodunit in Bollywood. But for now, here it is! The smartest, smoothest and slickest and the most slippery whodunit in Hindi cinema's living memory. DBB is a stubbornly placid tale of an iconic detective who seems to know more about Kolkata and its underworld than any authority of or on the metropolis in the 1940s. The film's writers, and I do mean Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Bannerjee and not Sharadindu Badhopadhyay who penned the original detective novels, lend a gripping flow to the narrative by bending the plot into shapes which are not recognizable or definable by the rules of the genre, at least, not the way we've so far perceived the murder mystery in Bollywood. Smells, sights and specially sounds emerge from the storytelling with a casual flair for making the obvious look subtle and the innocuous, dangerous.
5. Kedarnath: For the fifth spot it was a toss-up between Chhichhore and Kedarnath for me. I have opted for the latter. In the former Chhichhore Sushant didn’t look convincing in his older avatar, maybe because he wasn’t destined to grow old in real life. Kedarnath doesn’t try to impress us with technique. It is all heart. The lead players are not abashed about wearing their hearts on their sleeve. Sushant Singh Rajput’s character is so naturally noble it’s tough not to like him. The actor gives his all to his role, and then some more, leaving no room for his Mansoor to be judged for his religious beliefs.
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