At last, finally, hallelujah, a 'hatke' film that actually delivers. The promos of Chameli have been everywhere for a while now. And when something's being trumpeted to the skies for being so different, and for so long, then you begin to have your doubts. Especially when it has Karreina Kapoor in the lead.
You know Karreina. She of the snooty quotes and public catfights. And oh, yeah, wasn't she also in some movies? The ones with all the pink-pink and hearts in the tagline. So how different can this one be, right?
We could scream 'wrong' here in capitals, but that would make no sense (not like that's stopped us before). Chameli got all the attention it did because it had
a) a prostitute in the lead
b) ...okay, that's pretty much it.
What's refreshing about this movie is that the director/scriptwriter makes no attempt to water down Chameli's character with a lot of talk about phony morals and 'izzat' and the like.
Sure, there are the clichés. She has a miserable past (abandoned at six, meets her first customer at eight). And she's positively motherly about her friends - Hasina the transvestite, and a young chai-wallah. Plus, she dances in the rain, like any self-respecting Bollywood actress, and she has the most nerve-wracking giggle this side of a pebble in a tin.
But she also spits and swears with the best of them. She sits all sprawled, holds her cigarette with complete familiarity, and gives as good as she gets. She doesn't bother with ladylike because she knows she's all woman. There's nothing wishy-washy about her - Karreina as Chameli is all there, all the way.
So when Amit (Rahul Bose as Mr. Poker Face Investment Banker) walks into her parlor (a railway platform), he is slightly disturbed. At least you assume he is. There's no way of being sure because Mr. Bose is not big on facial expression. He looks like a priest who's trying to ignore an orgy going on in the same room. And he stays that way all through the movie, except for a rather touching scene in the end.
As he gets to know Chameli, who's increasingly scandalized about his squeaky clean past and frighteningly moral stand on things, Bose is dragged into her world by the sheer strength of his fascination for her. As he says in the narration, there were many times in the course of the night when he could have chosen to walk away, but he doesn't.
Chameli, like other sex-workers, is entangled almost inextricably with the mafia, and her dada Usmanbhai tries to force her to go with a powerful politician who she knows has a venereal disease. Bose is with her as she hides from the goondas, and later as she meets to negotiate with Usmanbhai. Her knight in a shining suit, he protects her from the pimp and pays off her debt.
But it isn't all that simple. The two of them get caught by the police during a shoot-out in the area, they're arrested and Bose is thrown behind bars. He is caught in a world that he doesn't understand or, to his despair, control. But for Chameli, it seems this is just another, if slightly more exciting, night.
The movie unravels many stark truths about the lives of sex-workers. They're the lowest on most any societal structure and are completely vulnerable to all the corrupt forces out there. But the film also highlights the awareness that now exists among this class, about their right to say no - one recurring background image is an AIDS message scrawled on a wall.
The film uses light beautifully, and the drama is accented the better for it. The music is also quite good, the rain-song in particular.
After a night of calling in of favours and negotiating with the police, Amit gets them out of the police station. And they part as morning breaks the next morning.
End of story? Get real, this is a Hindi movie. Of course they meet again. And while you knew all along that was going to happen, you're glad that it does.
And you're glad you followed your instincts on this one.