‘Indu Sarkar’ review: Weak, shallow melodrama kills the potential of a heady political thriller

‘Indu Sarkar’ refuses to go beyond the surface of either the big political picture or the personal tragedies of the Emergency.
‘Indu Sarkar’ review: Weak, shallow melodrama kills the potential of a heady political thriller
‘Indu Sarkar’ review: Weak, shallow melodrama kills the potential of a heady political thriller
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If you’ve been avidly following the controversy around Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar, and are waiting to hit the theatre to sink your teeth into a juicy political drama, here’s a note of warning for you – the film is actually the tale of a person called Indu Sarkar.

Sure, Indu (played by Kirti Kulhari) is someone who experiences a revolutionary awakening after witnessing police violence on the inhabitants of Delhi’s Turkman Gate during the Emergency. And yes, the story around her is peopled with thinly veiled shadows of actual figures of the Emergency, including a very grumpy Neil Nitin Mukesh as Sanjay Gandhi (here referred to only as Chief).

But Indu, and the camera that faithfully follows her everywhere, ultimately give us a very self-absorbed, middle-class experience of the Emergency – heavy on the rhetoric but very light on the on-ground reality of the situation. So, we spend enough time focusing on the orphan Indu’s congenital speech impediment – because of which we see a long line of potential adoptive parents and then grooms abruptly get up and leave – to even forget that we’re watching a film about despotism at times.

Indeed, every time Madhur seems to be veering in the direction of giving us a sense of the actual 'Indu sarkar' that we all came to watch, he quickly shifts track to the dysfunctional marriage between Indu and her saviour-turned-villain husband Naveen Sarkar (Tota Roy Chowdhury).

Naveen’s cavalier attitude towards other people’s fates in the quest to fulfill his own ambitions, has the potential of giving us a sense of how ordinary people turn into unquestioning agents of despotic cruelty, but we’re not given a satisfying exploration of that personal dimension either.

While Kirti and Tota Roy have their moments, their performances, like much else in this film, seem blunt-edged at crucial points, hesitant to really push the film past its melodrama into powerful realism.

Meanwhile, the film sets up weak, cardboard-thin versions of its antagonists – ‘Chief’ Gandhi and his coterie. In Chief, we get far more of the moody child and the caricatured villain than the shadowy politician who managed to amass unusual amounts of extra-constitutional power until his untimely death.

Neil Nitin Mukesh certainly tries hard to infuse some life and menace into the character, but he just doesn’t have enough material to work with. And the Chief’s coterie has little to do but stand around and be chastised for not carrying out the government’s family planning efforts more vigorously.

There’s also much that feels propagandist in the film, toeing the line of current power dispensations, particularly in the way the film sets up its ‘shocking’ display of the forced sterilisation programme’s cruelty in a Muslim-majority neighbourhood.

Indu Sarkar is by no means as bad a film as some of Madhur’s earlier efforts like Fashion or Heroine. It is a more measured telling, trying hard to avoid becoming just a massive bundle of clichés. But sadly, it never quite escapes the bounds of what we’ve come to expect from its director in recent years.

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