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Cinema Of Conscience

Friday, April 27, 2018

When the National Awards were announced and Divya Dutta won for Best Supporting Actress for Irada, one had to strain to recall the film that was released in February 2017, and seemed to have slipped through the cracks. The film, directed by Aparnaa Singh, also won for Best Film on Environment/ Conservation/Preservation – probably the only feature film entered in that category; how many films are made on this issue?

So, better late than never, one watched the film, and no matter what its shortcomings, it has taken up a very important cause. The film is set in Bhatinda, Punjab, under the corrupt chief minister, Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta), who takes bribes and looks the other way when factories belonging to Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar), contaminate groundwater in the region by the process of reverse boring. When an RTI activist, Aniruddha (Diwakar Kumar) gets evidence against the industrialist, he is abducted and murdered. His girlfriend, Maya (Sagarika Ghatge), tries to pursue the case and get his killers arrested, but makes little headway.

The area has so many cancer patients because of this pollution, that it is casually (and callously) referred to as the cancer capital. Riya (Rumana Molla), the daughter of an ex-army man Parabjeet Walia (Naseeruddin Shah) dies of cancer, because she swims in a canal polluted by toxic effluents, and he decides to get even.

When there is a blast in Paddy Sharma’s factory, the CM calls an investigator, Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), from the National Investigation Agency, holds out a promotion carrot and gives him instructions to shut the file, so that Sharma can get his insurance money and be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Mishra, who has been tossed about on one punishment posting after another, so that he can only talk to his son on the phone, would like to settle down for once, but the horrors of this case do not let him remain a passive observer. He quickly figures out that Walia was somehow involved in the factory blast, and starts unraveling the extent of the havoc caused by Sharma and his sleazy minions like Jeetu (Rajesh Sharma).

Divya Dutta, putting on a thick Punjabi accent and a shrewd expression under her loud make-up is impressive in the role, though there was no need to have her mother curse her for her ambition — if men do anything to climb the political ladder, they are not derided for it.

The film is well-intentioned, but is stymied by its scattershot script and vague characterisations. Still, a film cares enough to bell a big cat; it might have even made an impact if it had done well at the box-office. The National Awards must be some consolation.

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