Sanjay Dutt stays silent about the atrocities around him until tragedy strikes his own family.
Rudra (Sanjay Dutt) lives in a village with wife Paro (Nandita Das) and three children. They, along with other lower-caste brethren, are lorded over by the unfeeling Thakur Avadh Narayan Singh (Om Puri). Rudra is content in his servility to the Thakur, but when his nine-year-old daughter is raped by the latter`s wastrel sons, he can keep quiet no longer.
It`s one of those villages you`ve seen time and again in our cinema. One in which the peasants live together happily, drinking bhaang and singing songs for Holi, and the local baniya is named Rahim Chacha.
Naturally, there`s also a moustache-twirling, unutterably heinous Thakur who treats his wife like a doormat and encourages his sons to be womanising rogues. (When he catches them drinking beer, he reprimands a servant thus: `utha beer, rakh whiskey`.) He even fires his rifle in the midst of mujras conducted at his palatial mansion.
When a director as sensitive to the human condition as Mahesh Manjrekar chooses to tackle such cliched characters and situations, you expect a fresh take on things. After all, this is the man who so memorably humanized a gangster in `Vaastav`, a housewife in `Astitva`, a sainted brother in `Tera Mera Saath Rahen`, a misunderstood dad in `Ehsaas`.
But no such treat is in store here. `Pitaah` does start off promisingly, with Vijay Arora`s photography and Nitin Desai`s art direction beautifully conjuring up a vivid, dust-swirling atmosphere. But soon after, the cliches start piling up.
The Thakur`s daughter falls in love with a lower-caste guy who favours educating the masses (gasp!). It doesn`t take much brainwork to know what`s going to happen to him. There`s the faithful, brawny henchman of the Thakur who kills offending peasants. And you know that the newspaper editor is going to get it when he dares to print a story about the Thakur`s sons.
But most unforgivably, the central hook of a little girl`s rape is used merely as an excuse to get our hero going on a vendetta. Why bring in something as despicable as child molestation if all you want to do is have endless `dishum-dishum`? Is it because we`ve seen one too many heroes out to avenge wrongs done to their sisters, wives and mothers? So let`s have something new this time with a kid as the focus?
The director does try to infuse some flair into the film. There`s a beautifully executed sequence which shows the Thakur stretching in the morning after what seems like a sound sleep. We then see the goings-on in the floor below; the whore he slept with is leaving the house as his wife makes an entry after finishing her puja.
The actors almost make us believe that something worthwhile is happening. Sanjay Dutt, with his unkempt hair and bearded face, commands your attention throughout. He`s such a slave that he begins doing chores at the Thakur`s haveli even when he`s supposed to be looking for his missing daughter. An especially touching scene is one in which his son takes him to a court and explains how it functions.
Rudra`s submissiveness is nicely contrasted with Paro`s spitfire nature, and Nandita Das adds to her repertoire with another affecting portrayal. Om Puri has fun hamming up a one-note character. Poor Mita Vashisht is completely wasted as the Thakur`s wife. And while he`s billed as `above all` in the opening credits, Jackie Shroff has a really vague role as a corrupt cop who has inexplicable changes of heart later.
Manjrekar again demonstrates how woeful he is in the placement of songs in his films. Not that Anand Raaj Anand`s score is good, but you really don`t expect a song when Rudra is helping his family escape in a jungle. Even the Holi song, showing the village as a community, would have worked better earlier on rather than as a flashback that just impedes the dramatic tension.
Finally, you have the ludicrous, free-for-all climax. People get axed and shot, but survive to miraculously continue fighting. The Thakur`s wife keeps speeding around in a jeep. And the background score is filled with Vedic chants played at ear-splitting levels, in case you miss the momentousness of what`s transpiring.
`Pitaah` is an unremittingly loud melodrama that piles on the familiar by the truckload. Far from being a sensitive treatment of a touchy issue, this is about a meek dad doing a Rambo, mouthing `ek baap ka taaqat mat aazmaana`. What a cast! What a waste!
This review was written by Baradwaj Rangan. If you have any comments on this review, post a message on our message boards or write to: firstname.lastname@example.org