There are experimental films that redefine the boundaries of Indian cinema and alter the tastes of our audience and then there are experimental films that just aim to be that and end up just biting the dust. Girish Malik's Jal is a film that falls in the latter category.
One look at the promo and you see mentions of film awards, review quotes from international websites like TheHollywoodreporter.com and needless to mention the breath-takingly stunning imagery. But let me tell you, it's one film that does a smarter job in promo cutting than in filmmaking for what you see in the promo is all there is to it. And also the quote being, "A breathtakingly photographed tragedy of Shakespearean proportions," probably the only nice thing they had to say about Jal.
But to give credit where it's due, Jal indeed is an amalgamation of stunning imagery and a film mounted on a huge scale with each frame almost like a painting that can be mounted on a wall. There's brilliant ensemble of props and colours and a barren background almost like a well balance art piece. But story-wise the film is as parched as the barren land of Kutch for water.
Set in an obscure village in the heartland of Rann of Kutch, Jal revolves around the strife of humans for water. Dubbed as the water god by the villagers, the orphan boy Bakka (Purab Kolhi) is apparently is gifted with the special ability to find water in the parched lands of the desert. He lives with his friend Rakala and the latter's sister Kajri's (Tannishta Chatterjee) house and is much too confident about his "sixth" sense to actually support the villagers from requesting water from the "dushman" gaon. The dushman gaon although has the village belle Kesar (Kirti Kulhari) who happens to be Bakka's love interest, much against the wishes of Puniya (Mukul Dev).
Amidst all this you have a Russian ornithologist Kim (Saidah Jules) who is in Rann to monitor the cause for the dwindling numbers of Flamingos who migrate to Kutch every year. Accompanied by a bunch of sleaze-balls Ram Khiladi (Yashpal Sharma) and troupe who think she is nothing but a porn star and get a high just looking at her.
How Kim brings about two other foreigners with her for digging out water reservoirs under the barren land and how the hunt for water gets layered by the drama, power, politics, love, lust, suspense and more is what follows through the rest of the plot.
Girish Malik's storyline is as fragmented as the broken, sun-baked land of Rann of Kutch. Malik stuffs too much material in a 135 minute film despite having a thread bare plot. It's that addition of the many sub-plots and the shoddy treatment of each of it that makes for a yawn-fest.
It's not just the story and it's execution but also the performance that's quite a downer in this tragedy of mammoth proportions. Actors like Purab Kolhi, Kirti Kulhari struggle to stick to the local dialect of the village. Similar is the case of the other actors too so you have various version of the rural Gujarati right from Punjabi to South-Indian. Even actors like Gary Richardson (our very own desi firang), Yashpal Sharma and Tannishtha Chatterjee (the poster woman for rural women representation) are highly typified in their parts.
Jal works only and only for its production values. Sunita Radia's cinematography is breathtaking and even the sound track that runs alongside composed by Sonu Nigam and Bickram Ghosh is flawless.
Jal could've worked phenomenally well had the art of filmmaking merged well with the story of it. However, with ample stress on beautifying the film than weaving a good plot around it, Jal ends up being an ambitious experiment that goes wrong.