Bas Ek Pal – Bright gem but does it stand up to close scrutiny?


Bas Ek Pal is a film I was waiting to savor. I had heard so much about the excellence of this movie, about Onir’s outstanding direction, about the wonderful cast. This was clearly a standout movie for the year 2006. Why? For so many reasons really.. Let me enumerate…

1. The movie started out really well, there was an atmosphere of impending doom throughout the film that was very well done. I felt like I was inside a Rohinton Mistry novel.

2. Some of the characters were ordinary, real life people, well etched.

3. The story twisted and turned and kept me engaged throughout.

4. The music was quite good (though the whole package not as powerful as the music in Woh Lamhe).

5. The movie boasted of some excellent performances.

A little plot outline:

Nikhil Kapoor (Sanjay Suri) goes to a night club, meets and it instantly captivated by Anamika (Urmila Matondkar). She is being elusive but is attracted to him. Nikhil’s best friend Rahul (Jimmy Shergill) has a friend Steve (Rehaan Engineer) who is embroiled in marital strife with his wife Ira (Juhi Chawla). One day Rahul and Steve accompany Nikhil to the night club one day and there he meets Aanmika again, gets into a fight with her escort, and with the escort’s gun accidentally shoots Rahul. That lands him up in jail where he suffers through much beating and abuse of the imaginable and unimaginable type. Eventually Ira works on his case and gets him bail. He is trying to figure out why his friends abandoned him and refuse to see him, Anamika is hooked up with the paraplegic Rahul, and Ira and Steve are still going at each other. One finds out that he was set up in the night club. That was apparent in the beginning itself, but now the details come out and the rest of the story is a fantastical resolution of the tangle everyone is embroiled in.

So what does one see on close scrutiny?

That Ira is too scared to leave her abusive husband, but not too scared to have an affair. After she finds out he knows about the affair, she is still able to rescue the man who was victimized by her husband, but is still unable to find the courage to leave the husband. He goes away for weeks on end when she has her affair but she does not leave him during these prolonged absences, instead she chooses a time when he is in town to finally muster up some courage. You learn that it is possible to plan a shooting using a gun carried by a person unknown to the planner. That a person who has an MBA from a US university and lived with his parents there, upon relocation does not have enough money to afford top notch legal representation. And so on and so forth. So yes, the plot is riddled with many such inconsistencies, and it is not about relationships at all. Ira is an abused spouse and yet lives with her abuser – that makes her an enabler but that aspect is never explored. Hers is the worst fleshed out character. Anamika is a very fickle frivolous person and do such people exist? Steve is an abuser and a real person. Rahul is a strange mix of victim, savior and avenger. Nikhil is the character that you sympathize with the most – he is not the protagonist, but a victim, the fulcrum around whom the story revolves, but he is a passive participant for the most part.

The performances:

Juhi is outstanding. What a way to re-emerge as a mature actress of note. She takes an ill drawn character and manages to infuse it with life and reality. She has the most scope for histrionics and yet never resorts to that – instead she is most understated and has maximum impact.

Urmila – well, I know I will get flak from her legion of fans but in the first part she is convincing as the peppy frivolous girl. Then the movie turns serious and Urmila loses it – she yells, sobs, screams and generally over-performs at every turn. In all fairness to Urmila – it is Juhi’s underplayed acting that makes Urmila’s look overdone, but there it is.

Sanjay Suri is quite good – I liked the character, and the way he performed it. He showed obsession, despair, terror and self-disgust with equal ease.

Jimmy Shergill was good. I saw a decent role competently done – nothing outstanding, nothing jarred.

Rehaan Engineer was okay – sort of easy to play bad man role.

About the direction.. I had heard so much about Onir and I think this was a very good effort. But this was by no means a flawless film. The story of ordinary characters stuck in some fantastical scenario was a problem for me. And the last 10 minutes were quite atrocious IMO. By the end I wanted the two remaining people to pick up the gun and BAM BAM! The setup was so mundane – it was all driven by jealousy? How fantastic is that! The bits in jail were extremely powerful. BTW guys just because it was a male being raped does not make it any outstanding act of bravery on the director’s part. These things do happen, just as much as women getting raped and abused in custody – so what is the big deal here? Was Madhuri Dixit not shown to suffer through such and worse in Anjaam?

In the end I liked Bas Ek Pal for its unusual story, but I felt it fell short of the mark in many ways and failed to achieve greatness. Of all the performances Juhi was simply awesome – she made me give the film 8 stars.

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