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Once Upon A Time in Bihar Movie Review: Right Region, Wrong Film

Rahul Desai | Updated on: 30 October 2015, 10:17 IST

A fruitless journalistic exercise

There's no bigger tragedy in cinema than 'relevant' films executed with the swagger of an orator in a graveyard. When an immoral environment corrupts morally upright protagonists, every scene tries very hard to be important and preachy. Director Nitin Chandra takes the Prakash Jha route. He digs up real incidents, and attempts to present the frailties and fragilities of a system that has brought Bihar to the brink over the last decade.

Simplistic formula

Three small-town characters decide to kidnap for ransom after the system fails them in terribly familiar ways. Rajiv (Kranti Prakash Jha) needs money to get his sister married. Sankar (Deepak Singh) needs money to bribe for a government job. And Jeans (Ajay Kumar) just needs money because he's the comic element amidst strapping men of purpose.

Post-interval, it turns into a tacky heist movie. They plot and plan in empty classrooms with the subtlety of CID legends. Since the actors fail to display urgency, the background score serves as a jarring reminder that something important - and very smart - is taking place. It's a pity, then, that they unintentionally resemble the bumbling Hera Pheri trio instead.

Dialogues like Social Studies lessons

The director seems to be so chuffed with his solid research that he forgets to respect the medium he has chosen. He is so eager to communicate the problems and politics of the region that he makes each of them converse in various volumes of sermonizing righteousness. Their lines come across more as snippets from robotic newspaper articles than damning devices of dramatic reverb. The words look more out of sync with lip movements than is the case even in Hindi-dubbed Tamil movies. Good intentions without a sense of craft are as useless as an Indian cricket team on seaming pitches.

Real locations, antsy locals

He has the added advantage of being able to use his stark surroundings - the terrains of Buxar and Patna - to amplify the vicious circle of poverty and crime. But every sound is added in post- production, robbing the location of its personality. Live streets are pointless if every human being stares into the camera. Every long shot has people and even dogs' gazes following the actors - like a guerrilla shoot gone wrong. The news presenter on television is a poker-faced woman in the same outfit every morning, probably canning all her shots in an hour. Somewhere in this mess, Pankaj Jha and Ashish Vidhyarthi look like veteran artists prodding their way through a bad dream.

The director opportunistically mentions in a press note that the 'controversial and entertaining' dialogues will affect audiences more than the ongoing Bihar elections. He isn't entirely wrong. An indelible mark will be left - and not for the right reasons. Hopefully, this also permanently buries the much-abused 'Once Upon A Time' title syndrome.

First published: 30 October 2015, 10:17 IST
 
Rahul Desai @ReelReptile

Rahul Desai is a full-time Federer enthusiast and avid traveller who absolutely must find a way to reach Europe once a year. In his spare time, he reviews films, aspires to own a swimming pool and whines about the lack of palatable food in Mumbai.

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