I’d rate ‘Ye Saali Zindagi’ (YSZ) at par with ‘Ishqiya’ and much higher than ‘Kaminey’. Along with ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘Peepli Live’, it is the best Bollywood flick I have seen in the last 2 years. Fast paced, intelligent, absurd, funny, sexy and colourful are the words that come to mind to describe this mad caper. And then of course there’s Irrfan Khan, that actor who always reminds me of Nana Patekar and all that he has managed not to be. Whether it is comic role (Life in a Metro) or a stern police officer (New York), Irrfan is that actor who hides an incredibly sensitive soul beneath his habitual deadpan expression. YSZ is a homage to that soul.
The critics claim that this is a thriller. Does that mean Dr Zhivago is about the Russian revolution and Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi (HKA) is about campus politics spilling out into life later? Naah! They are about all these things and also great love stories. For me, YSZ reveals one fundamental truth which very few of us recognize – all of us have fallen in love and continue to love and buy gifts for Valentine’s Day. But only a rare few are ‘lovers’. For you see, a lover doesn’t merely love, in the manner of a cook who cooks superb palak panner. He is someone who defines his entire life through the code of his love. Hence, all his actions, his decisions, & his emotions centre around that single fundamental fact of his life. In this sense, he is removed from a banker or a doctor. Once you understand this fact, you’ll see that everything an Irrfan or a Shiney Ahuja does (in HKA) makes perfect sense. They are neither naïve, nor particularly great. They are just great lovers.
In the true tradition of Beckett, Pinter, Camus, and Pirandello, YSZ is also an existential comedy. It works on the central premise of chance and accidents; your birth is an accident (ref. Whatever Works), things unfolding around you are mostly accidental; marriage, career, children, old age and death are all governed by the quirky hand of fate. Does that mean there is indeed no one up there? Maybe there is, but if you’re gonna count on him when you’re in trouble, you better smarten up. I think it’s best to look upon Him as an aged grandfather. One who can’t bail you outta trouble but whose presence nevertheless comforts you.
Chitrangada Singh is as stunning as expected but has too much bronze body spray on her and doesn’t emote too well. But then I guess, with a face and body like hers, she doesn’t really need to do anything. Just park her in front of a camera. Arunoday Singh is perfect in his role as Kuldeep, that child-man who is steeped in a life of crime and planning big things when all he really wants is to be with the woman he loves, who by the way is an incredibly alluring specimen of womanhood. The chemistry between them is so charged, you can light up an entire village in remote Orissa. A lot of heroines on Karan Johar’s moronic chat show say, “I will do intimate scenes only if the script demands it.” Well, this was one script where the ‘bed breaking’ scene seemed absolutely natural, was picturised beautifully and was hauntingly erotic.
The initial parts of the film are a little confusing with Mishra tagging every sidekick for name and location and it gets a tad irritating. Gradually, however, you can sense the method in this madness and a glimmer of a structure emerges. Arun (Irrfan) loves Priti (Chritangada Singh) who in turn loves Shyam who is unfortunately engaged to Minister Verma’s daughter. When a notorious gangster named Badey (Yashpal Sharma) needs to be freed from Tihar jail, he entrusts this responsibility to his trusted henchman Kuldeep (Arunoday), also a previous inmate of Tihar jail. Kuldeep hatches a plan to abduct Shyam and the minister’s daughter and in return for their release, negotiate Badey’s release from Tihar. As expected, in a universe governed by chance, the wrong girl gets picked up and it is Arun’s beloved Priti who is now in trouble. Though Arun has no reason to get involved and his voice-over which is one of the most delightful elements of the film informs us, “Zindagi mein kabhi kabhi samajhme aata hai ke galat samai pe, galat jagah me ho aur waha se nikal jaana chahiye’, he does nothing of this sort. How can he, he’s a ‘lover’, right?
One of the things I found delightful in YSZ is that though the film has two pivotal reference points in the characters of Arun and Kuldeep and the audience remains committed to what happens to these two men, the peripheral characters all have important roles to essay and are not mere cardboard cut-outs. Thus, Mehta (Saurab Shukla) is entirely believable as a corrupt CEO of an investment firm that specialises in converting black money into white, as is Prashant Narayanan as Badey’s creepy transvestite step-brother Chotey who turns up with falsies stuck to his chest. Yikes!
Even the close-up shots of Anjali, the minister’s daughter, are interesting for they reveal much about her character. In the absence of much dialogue (hers), this does help.
I must confess that I had misgivings about YSZ. As the film began, I thought my worst nightmare had come true and Mishra was trying to join the hip new brigade of young filmmakers who deploy multiple narrative threads, flashback storytelling, and needless profanity as a means of lending authenticity. Sure, Mishra mixes all these ingredients but the end product is a universe where cash is indeed king and people are willing to kill their next of kin from for 5 lakhs. Arun and Kuldeep are the two aliens in this dog-eats-dog world. You know their chances of survival are slim and yet you are riveted to their fortunes for while they are not like us, in them you glimpse who you could have been had you loved like they do.