How many convolutions can human behavior really take? How powerful can animal
instincts (Sigmund Freud's ID) really be? Was Freud right in his "psychosexual
theory" that every aspect of human behavior is a function of his sexual desires?
Are we really civilized? These are some of the questions that Chandni Bar throws
at you, and none of us has the answers.
Most of us live in the make-believe world where we expose ourselves only to the brighter side of civilization. Those who get exposed to the darker sides just chuck the thoughts out of their conscious mind and make themselves forget it. But what happens when you are suddenly exposed to the naked truth without any mercy? It's like somebody takes you to a grave, rips off the neat tombstone, digs it and shows you the body beneath that is half-rotten and has thousands of maggots crawling all over it. Yes, even this is the truth. How many of us can take it and how many of us are willing to are questions that we can answer only ourselves.
Chandni Bar does for beer bar dancers what Promila Kapoor did for call girls through her book Call Girls. It exposes the dark secrets of society and makes the truth stare you right in your face. For those who haven't read the book, the sheer amount of perversions in human sexual nature portrayed in the book will make you puke (did you, for instance, know that some men have orgasms by licking sandals, touching lipstick, smelling women's undergarments, and even by having them urinate on their bodies?).
In his portrayal of Mumbai here, Bhandarkar starts out where Mira Nair left off in Salaam Bombay. The film exposes the darkness beneath the glow and glitter of the most happening city in India.
The story starts in Sitapur (UP) where in riots a Muslim family gets killed, leaving Mumtaz (Tabu) and her "maamu" (maternal uncle) as the only survivors. Both of them leave the village and land up in a slum in Mumbai. There, with help of a "bharuwaa" Iqbal Chamri, Mumtaz gets the job of a dance girl in Chandni Bar, and the metamorphosis of her life begins.
The entire story revolves around Mumtaz - the horrific incidents that happen with her and her fight for survival. How she gets raped by her "maamu", how she transforms from a shy village girl to a thorough professional (knowing exactly where to look while dancing to get the maximum amount of money), how from being able to hardly talk she evolves to being able to swear venomously... This depiction continues till she has an encounter with an underworld hit man Potya Sawant (Atul Kulkarni) who falls for her. After murdering the "maamu", they get married, and Mumtaz leaves the bar never to return again.
A few years and two kids later, Potya is set up by his boss and gets killed in a fake police encounter. Mumtaz's life comes a full circle and she returns to Chandni Bar this time for her children's survival. Time flies by and Mumtaz toils determined to give her children a better future.
But can anybody escape this vicious circle of poverty, abuse and crime? How long can you remain unruffled when you are surrounded by sharks all over? Are the stories of heroes rising from slums true? Not in this tale, at least. It all ends when circumstances (all sexual in nature) drive Mumtaz's daughter to prostitution and her son to murder.
It's a story of failure, but then it's also a story of grit, guts, determination and the instincts of survival. Which part you take is up to you.
As a movie, Chandni Bar is real heavy. With realism in everything from lighting and makeup to dialogues (bar dancers call each other "kutti" and their customers "saala haraami"), and absolutely no background score, the film is a bit too strong for the senses.
However, director Bhandarkar has done a fantastic job (and I am not saying this just because it's an art movie but because he has stuck to his story line and the execution is very focussed). There are no songs and dream sequences of people dancing in Switzerland (with white skins staring in the backdrop) to deviate from the topic and kill time. The editing is crisp and fast paced.
Tabu has pulled out an ace. It's one of her most powerful roles, and she has done an awesome job. Just for her alone I'd strongly recommend this. The lady deserves a standing ovation.
The verdict: if you are looking for entertainment, just forget this movie. But
if you have an appetite for some intellectual stuff and don't mind having some
depression as the payoff, don't miss this one.