Ugly Hindi Movie
The year 2014 has almost drawn to a close, and along with it ends a terrible year for Hindi movies. If my memory (and "the list of Bollywood films in 2014" on Wikipedia) serves me correctly, I could count on the fingers of my one hand all the films this year that I would remember fondly. It is thus ironical that a disastrous year should end on such a high note with Ugly, a beautiful gift to mankind from Anurag Kashyap.
Kashyap is undoubtedly an exemplary talent with high ambitions, and is pretty much the brand ambassador of path-breaking, edgy cinema in India. He has not only made his mark in Bollywood, but has also helped in launching successful careers for his proteges. His Achilles heel, though, is that he is prone to going overboard with his ambition, particularly in the post-interval portions.
With Ugly, he returns to his dark-thriller roots and the result is his best film since his directorial debut Paanch. On the exterior, Ugly is about the kidnapping of a 10-year old girl that sets the ball rolling and wrecks havoc on the lives of the people around her. But much like Paanch, the film actually explores the darkness that lurks behind innocent faces, a darkness that comes to the fore when tempted by the most powerful motivator of all - money.
The film reels you in slowly during its first half with its dark-hearted characters, its black humor, successive twists and its honest exploration of human nature. It builds the intrigue, piques your curiosity and indulges in a blame-game that'll have you making wild guesses as to the identity of the kidnapper.
It's in the second hour that the film sets off at a breakneck speed, with desperation clouding judgment, characters becoming unhinged and all hell breaking loose. And there's only one man, one mastermind who is orchestrating it all, moving the characters around like pawns in a game of chess - Anurag Kashyap.
As producer, writer and director of the film, he is in complete control, pitting characters against each other in intensely watchable confrontations that range from beatings in jail to free flow of curse words. The film takes a natural course, with none of the twists feeling forced just to move the story forward. Instead, you look on slack-jawed in amazement at the level of comfort with which he navigates the mean, dank and dingy streets and buildings in the underbelly of Mumbai.
The film never holds back, whether it's the cuss-filled dialogues or its take-no-prisoners approach to depicting violence, and it culminates in noir-esque finale that will anger and amaze people in equal parts. It is gorgeous to look at in a rugged, thugish way, thanks to cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis. Ugly is proficient in every technical department, from the casting of all major and minor characters to the concise editing that never lets the film drag on.
One area in which Kashyap deserves a special mention is extracting superlative performances from a mostly non-celebrity cast. Rahul Bhat, a long-forgotten supporting actor in B-grade films, stars as a struggling actor who's desperate to find his kidnapped daughter, and he plays his part with panache. He is convincing at worst and immensely watchable at best in a performance that's sure to get him noticed. Ronit Roy, the most recognizable face in the film, is riveting as the hard-nosed, no-nonsense cop who isn't afraid to beat the hell out of anyone who angers him. You cannot help but stare fixedly at him as he goes about conducting one unscrupulous act after the other.
Tejaswani Kolhapure as the deranged woman with terrible taste in men and Vineet Kumar Singh as the dubious friend are the other standout performances in a film littered with great exhibition of acting chops by even the most minor characters.
In the end, Ugly is a priceless little gem of a film that is head-and-shoulders above almost everything that you've seen this year, and neck-to-neck with Haider as the best film in the past 12 months. It is well and truly Anurag Kashyap's baby, one that you cannot help but fall in love with. Go on, end the year with a bang by doing a good deed and watching this pulse-pounding indie-thriller.