Wrong Side Raju

Ten minutes into Mikhil Musale’s Wrong Side Raju, everyone in the auditorium who knew rudimentary Gujarati (including this South Indian reviewer, born and raised in Gujarat), forgot that they were watching a Gujarati movie. This is a good thing as well as a bad thing. Good, because the look, feel, vibe and overall production quality of this movie is at par with most mainstream ‘bollywood’ movies. Bad, because this movie is so reminiscent of a small budget ‘bollywood’ thriller that I won’t be able to cut this movie the slack I usually reserve for regional films. For me, Wrong Side Raju is almost a Hindi movie dubbed in Gujarati. And when I look at it like that, the movie leaves me satisfied, but not delighted.wrong_side_raju_poster

The film is ‘inspired’ by an actual hit-and-run case that transpired in Ahmedabad couple of years back, involving an influential doctor’s son. The Raju of the title is played by Pratik Gandhi who channels his inner Dhanush quite well and hits the right notes almost till the end (more on the end later). Raju is a driver by day for advocate Amitabh Shah (Asif Basra, an inspired and spot-on casting choice by Mr. Chhabra), and a teetotaler bootlegger by night. He gets smitten by the French ‘friend’ of his boss’ son Tanmay and gets embroiled in a cover-up when a midnight accident happens. The rest of the plot details will require a ticket.

The first half is breezy, albeit a little slow. The songs by Sachin-Jigar are top notch (specially the ode to Amdavad in the beginning). The love story between Raju and his ‘Saily Medam’ is too convenient, inconsistent and contrived. I can only hope that young Gujaratis don’t start finding parallels every time a foreign tourist warms up to them. Post interval, the plot gains a lot of momentum. So much that it becomes difficult for the writers to bring it safely to a stop. So they crash it into a wall instead. The audience around me went gaga over the twist in the end, but I personally found it ‘meh’ at best. It was a deus ex machina. Nothing that the characters say or do throughout the movie will prepare you for what the characters say that they did in the end. I really wish that the film had a more bitter-sweet, little won-little lost Phantom-esque end.

Wrong Side Raju marks Phantom Films’ foray into Gujarati cinema; and the Phantom stamp (especially that of Anurag Kashyap) is visible in most of the scenes involving the police. The main investigating officer, played by the brilliant Jayesh More, is ruthless and funny in equal measures. There is the usual banter between officers and hawaldars reminiscent of Ugly. The police are still enamoured by the powers of the mobile phone including its ability to take ‘pothyu’ (selfies in Phantom Gujarati). But on the plus side, the Phantom marks are also visible in the taut and almost accurate police procedural and judicial sequences. I really enjoyed watching an on-screen lawyer manoeuvre against bail by having the charge sheet filed in record time.

But while the special touches of Phantom are a welcome change, I must warn the new-age Gujarati film-makers to be a little careful while dealing with an all-wish-fulfilling devil. Gujarati films in the last 4-5 years have no doubt rebounded with a vengeance, but are on the verge of trading their souls and becoming Hindi films dubbed in Gujarati. There is a fine line between making a slice-of-life urban film and typecasting that life. There is more to an urban Gujarati than just yearning for alcohol, dealing with bootleggers, dreaming of ‘bijness’ or ‘amerika’ and doing the garba. At least I would like to believe so.

All in all, Wrong Side Raju is a decent thriller that has many moments that are well done and an end that is medium rare at best. Watch it once, because there are less chances of a just-released Gujarati film coming to a television channel near you.

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Chhello Divas

For someone who has lived in Gujarat all his life, I have not watched too many Gujarati films. This is probably because for a very long time Gujarati films lived in a parallel universe where the heroines dressed in gravity-defying ‘chania cholis’ and heroes clad in ‘kedios’ started every song with a “heeeyyyyy”. I’m sure that many Gujaratis found some guilty pleasure in watching these, but I could never identify with them. Then a few years back, a new breed of Gujarati film makers stumbled upon a new voice – that of an urban Gujarati youth. The quality of films made since then has been quite refreshing and, if box office records are to be believed, they’ve been successful as well.

One of the complaints that I’ve had with new-age Gujarati films has been that they try too hard to be a Hindi film with regional dialogues. Some of them like Bey Yaar have even ‘borrowed’ plot lines from ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ quite generously. I am happy to report that ‘Chhello Divas’ (Last Day), directed by Krishnadev Yagnik, is not one such film.

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Chhello Divas has been consistently (and emphatically) promoted for what it is – an urban Gujarati film about 8 college students who are about to embark into the ‘real world’. The characterisation, the plot devices and the dialogues; everything is quintessentially urban and Gujarati.

Although the synopsis states that this is a story of 8 friends, the actual film revolves more around the characters of Nick (Yash Soni), Vicky (Malhar Thakkar), Pooja (Janki Bodiwala), Loy (Vadodara boy Mitra Gadhvi) and Nisha (Kinjal Rajpriya). The storytelling is Saathiya-esque (or should I say, Alaipayuthey-esque): a series of flashbacks strung together by a grim present set in a hospital waiting room. The forward-backward mode didn’t quite work for me. The film would have been pretty much the same had it been a linear storyline. The flashbacks are also more of standalone comedy tracks that don’t necessarily merge into one another all the time. Some of these tracks fall flat on their face, some start off as funny but get stretched a tad too long. But a sizeable majority of the sequences are genuinely funny and laugh-inducing. This alone is worth the admission (which is cheaper because being a Gujarati film, Chhello Divas is tax-free).

Yash Soni is quite decent as the leading man and gets some of the expressions bang on. Malhar Thakkar as Vicky is a loose cannon. Sometimes he fires a joke correctly but he misses so often that it makes the on-target ones seem like flukes. Mitra Gadhvi is quite nice as Loy and emotes a lot more with his body language than the rest of the cast, Janki as Pooja makes a cute debut but almost gets her thunder stolen by Kinjal who makes a cracker of an appearance mid-way through the film. A special word of mention should go to the character of canteen boy Naresh played by Mayur Chauhan who gets a gem of a sequence towards the end and makes the most of it.

The production values are quite nice thanks to the confidence reposed by the film’s producers on a first-time director and cast. But the editing could have been a little tighter. On some occasions, I felt that the director and the editor got a little too enamoured by the characters and forgot to cut the scenes where they should have. But hey! As long as I am laughing consistently throughout the movie and come out of the auditorium with a smile, these are small quibbles that I can easily live with.

All in all, Chhello Divas is definitely a good one-time watch that will remind you of some instances from your own college days, especially if you did it in Gujarat. I believe that Gujarati films are finally finding their foothold and the least that we can do as an audience, is give them a fair chance.

Verdict: 7/10

Voluntary Disclosure: One of the producers of the film, Sharad Patel from ESSPEE Group, is a dear friend and I watched the movie on a complementary ticket. All efforts have still been made to maintain objectivity.

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