Barah Aana is a product of disillusioned, tired times. As a dark parody on faceless people who demand to be seen, it showcases from amidst the dust, ramshackle brick and dirty slums, the dreams, aspirations and troubles of its three protagonists, contrastingly exploding into a supernova of shades and sounds that wouldn't have looked out of place at a Pink Floyd concert.
The movie tells the story of Shuklaji (Naseer), a driver who, much to his chagrin, is declared legally dead; Yadav (Raaz), a watchman who when pushed to the brink turns a desperado; and Aman (Arjun), a waiter who is not averse to making a quick buck and fancies marrying an Italian customer of his for money (and as an undercurrent, also those of many people like them.)
Yadav, caught up in a cobweb of troubles, gets involved in a crime accidentally. By dint of sheer good luck, he manages to get out of it scot-free. However he finds this seemingly low-risk business very inviting; he ignores his conscience and decides to eke out a living by the way of such micro felonies. He lures his roommates into partnering him, and they quickly become party to the shady operation given their own distressing circumstances.
They pull off a series of such petty crimes, and decide that it is okay to loot people as long as they are not caught. Then one day Shuklaji, piqued with the slurs and insults of his employer's wife, decides to abduct her to teach her a lesson, and a shoddy mess ensues. But what they make of it, or rather what it makes of them, is left as a mystery to the audience. Maybe arty films are just supposed to end on a confusing note!
Barah Aana excels in its characterizations, though. It effectively captures the gray shades of the underdogs but at times portrays an almost morbid fascination to defend the criminals and even the crimes, remarking that it is the society that is engendering them.
Naseeruddin Shah is agreeable - there is not much homework he'd have had to do after A Wednesday, anyway. The rather multi-dimensional character of the watchman-turned-desparado is brought to life through a bravura performance by Vijay Raaz. And Arjun Mathur! Who's this guy? He's absolutely brilliant in a subtle, nuanced performance. He's even good-looking, and his butler (waiter) English quite convincing.
The movie has higgledy-piggledy influences of the stereotypical portrayal of Indian poverty as seen in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Slumdog Millionaire's parallel tracks, and The White Tiger. Joseph Conrad was wrong. We don't live as we dream, at least not the thousands of Indians living in slums scattered across the country that are hidden artistically by the India Shining campaigns.
But anything utterly realistic need not be good cinema. Barah Aana is an unassuming depiction of the struggle of the underdog, but there is nothing as ambitious as a story in it. At best it passes off as some water colour in this au courant genre of cinema that is quickly turning stereotypical.