Halahal Hindi Movie Review
Randeep Jha's 'Halahal' opens with an ingenious scene where a girl named Sanaya go after a boy named Ashish. At the same time, a gang of men chase the two, and suddenly, a truck runs over the girl. Any suspicion of accidental death is cleared in the very next moment as the goons hurriedly burn her body. If it is just a case of an accident, then why would they burn her? The boy flees the scene, and we suspect what his part in the accident is.
A burnt corpse in a place like Ghaziabad is a story ripe for our news channels, which constantly chase TRP. It is appropriate, then, that Halahal employs press-related sounds as a part of its background music. A few minutes into the film, we are reminded of that gritty Amazon Prime thriller Paatal Lok. While Paatal Lok and Halahal are a world apart in terms of plot, both are somewhat similar by design and character elements.
At the thick of it all is a sinister medical conspiracy, which is unravelled slowly and steadily. Sachin Khedekar plays Dr Shiv, the grieving father of that girl from the first scene of the film. Police officers tell a suspicious Shiv that the girl committed suicide, but he is far from convinced by this. So, he enlists the help of a corrupt cop named Yusuf (Barun Sobti) to know what happened to his daughter. For a long time in Halahal, the makers of the film keep us in the dark about what happened to her.
There are perhaps a bit too many subplots to keep track of. There is a medical entrance coaching center where Yusuf probes for bribes from its staff. There are government officials entangled in a conspiracy of students being killed in seemingly accidental deaths or faked suicides, to exploit the donation system that plagues India's medical college entrance process. Everyone from cops to doctors to a Ministry of Communication and IT employee are in it for a piece of the pie. There is also a pen drive that holds the key to the unravelling of the mystery.
Zeishan Quadri and Gibran Noorani's script of Halahal appears to be inspired by the 2013 Vyapam Scam, which was also related to the entrance of medical students. I expect a film like it to dig deeper into the story that has a gritty resemblance to real-life incidents, which is hard to shake off. But what the movie lacks in world-building and the development of supporting characters, it more than makes up in its performances and execution.
Barun Sobti is impressive as Yusuf, a corrupt cop who gradually develops a sense of conscience as he sets out to uncover the truth. Never relying on histrionics, Sobti's demure demeanor, restraint, and chemistry with Sachin Khedekar are what powers this intriguing film. Khedekar plays a role here that we have seen him portray in many other films before, but he brings an extra layer to the traditional grieving father template. His performance is so good that at the end of Halahal, we feel like we have not fully figured him out. We would not know whether to empathize with him or find faults in him. If you find yourself in a similar dilemma when watching the film, then join the club!
Yet, despite the two performances at the center of the film, it is the screenplay that makes Jha's film work. It is only in the final few moments of Halahal that do we even realize how ingenious that opening scene is. Our character perceptions are changed to a large extent as the makers subvert tried and tested genre tropes. You may watch Halahal on Eros Now or Airtel Xstream Prime.