The week's second film based on real events, a film meant to be hard-hitting and unflinchingly real, and a story told through a new director's vision. This is the closest comparison I can make between Black Friday
and Undertrial, two films both meant to evoke strong emotions. The films however are so far apart in their filmmaking, that the predominant emotion that Undertrial evokes is apathy.
Undertrial is the story of Sagar Hussain (Rajpal Yadav), a prisoner in the Central Jail undergoing trial on charges of raping and assaulting his daughters for 8 long years. Whilst incarcerated, he is shown no mercy or compassion by his captors or fellow inmates, except a saintly type (Mukesh Tiwari). The key witness against him is his wife Sameena (Monica Castelino), but all may not be what it seems.
This is the film's strongest point - the real-life trial's ups and downs give a lot of fodder for the script to throw in twists that entirely throw the film's balance askew. The revelations come in fast and furious, and the film gains from the unpredictability it generates by holding its cards close to its chest. And that may be the film's ultimate flaw, too: keeping all its secrets to itself, it trudges along in the first half, accomplishing nothing except establish the scenario, and by the time it picks pace, you may have given up.
That may have been excusable if the characters it establishes or the scenarios it depicts had any depth or understanding. Instead, what we get is a mish-mash of crude and deliberately shocking moments to chew over, and some particularly loud acting by everyone except Yadav and Tiwari.
Rounding off the cast inside the courtroom are P P Verma (Prem Chopra) and a lawyer brought around by Tiwari's character, Ravi Vishnoi (Kader Khan), who aims to turn the case around and avoid the guaranteed guilty verdict. Everyone, especially Castelino, believes in getting heard through the loudest and most over the top way possible, and the film suffers from an acting ensemble that would do well to show some restraint.
Some interesting moments, and an entirely unnecessary hour of prison shenanigans later, the film does begin to show some promise in the courtroom. Sadly, for a procedural court drama, it lacks the immediacy to make it edge of the seat. It still remains the high point of the film, so savor the bits while you can.
Director Aziz Khan handles a potentially volatile subject with the maturity of a cheap novel writer. Taste, sense of propriety, respect for the real-life counterpart, all are fair game in his single-minded pursuit of some sort of shaggy, seedy nirvana. To be fair, he does show a flair for the dramatic, and for precisely those moments, you see his talent shine, only to be obliterated by the now great, now iffy dialog. Add to all this an item number and a prison bonhomie song, and you get the idea of how bizarre it truly gets.
Rajpal Yadav is a star, really. Even with all the flaws you can count for the cast, he emotes well enough for all of them. This is a complex character, and the only one with any real depth or dimension, and Yadav bites it with gusto. It looks like he is out to exorcise the funny man label he got stick with, and he relishes the chance.
It's the execution of the film that lets him down, really. The inconsistent pacing, the amateurish acting, and flat characters take away from a potentially good film with a standout performance. The conviction of telling a true life incident is to lauded surely, but to give an incomplete or unpolished film can't be excused when there is better competition releasing the same week.