It's time that Bollywood goes red too. Inspired by the long line of militant-based
movies seen in Tollywood, and more specifically by the movies Erra Sainyam and
Osey Ramalumma, Laal Salaam attempts to start off a trend in Bollywood, which
I hope to God is not taken up! And if the audience reaction is anything to go
by, it won't.
With some credible names in the cast and a supposedly powerful topic and characters, Laal Salaam endeavors to achieve a lot, and falls far short off the mark because of the technique the director has chosen. Instead of trying to stress on the subtle nuances, the topic is portrayed in an extremely crass manner, with some scenes that assault the senses and dialogues that would have even the frontbenchers blushing.
The story deals with the tribals of Kandoli. The main characters include Kanna Malvi (Sharad Kapoor), a medical student studying in Nagpur who comes back once in a while to romance his girlfriend Rupali (Nandita Das). In the background we have the atrocities that the tribals are subjected to by the officials in the region - Sub-Inspector Deshpande (Shayaji Shinde) and Forest Officer Solanki. The tribals are hired for contract jobs and then are cheated off their pay. Apart from this, Deshpande and Solanki are also cruel towards anyone who goes against them.
On the other hand, there is a naxalite group headed by Rajaiah (Makhran Deshpande). The tribals are caught between the officials and the naxalites. Kanna's brother Kusi happens to witness Deshpande taking advantage of a tribal woman. There follows an altercation, and after Kusi is beaten up and abused in a stomach-churning manner, he goes and joins Rajaiah. In a couple of scenes, Rupali is repeatedly and horribly raped by Deshpande, after which she too joins the gang. Now it's retribution time.
The first to be abused, beaten up, pissed upon, shot and burnt (not necessarily in that order) is the Forest Officer. Deshpande gets worried and gets military forces in, led by M K Thirpa (Dalip Tahil), and they together start searching and shooting the naxalites. This works in getting the unimportant people knocked off-screen.
Finally, the naxalites use a double-agent informer who helps in cornering Deshpande. Same abusing-beating-shooting-burning routine repeated. There's one final romantic interlude between Rupali and Kanna where she is allowed by Rajaiah to go back to normal, but she prefers the gun-toting life. Kanna and Rupali both go separate ways and thus the movie ends.
The topic isn't new, and neither is the treatment. The performances are okay as
far as what the script demands, but the demands aren't much, and it's more of
crass theater-enactment than anything else. Shayaji Shinde and Makhran Deshpande
are the only people who really impress. The music is copied from the original
Telugu movies, and does nothing to add to the movie's repertoire. This may just
be called film-noire, but the noire is for all the wrong reasons.