Director: Shlok Sharma
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shweta Tripathi
Haraamkhor is the story of a desperately lonely teenage girl and her predatory teacher who abuses her sexually, physically and psychologically.
I hope I haven't put you off with that introduction. Yes, Haraamkhor is horrific but it's also morbidly funny and moving. Debutant director Shlok Sharma constructs a layered portrait of a tragedy that is, at once, surprising and inevitable.
The central relationship in the film is repulsive. But Shlok isn't interested in creating melodrama about a monster. Shyam and Sandhya are ordinary people living in a small, sparse town in Gujarat. Her mother has left. Her father is emotionally distant. Sandhya finds affection where she can.
This is a difficult story to tell. Shlok, who has also written the film, struggles to weave the various strands of Haraamkhor together. His grip on the narrative and us loosens and tightens. In places, the film feel feels choppy and the textures, underwritten. But Haraamkhor rides on the performances. The actors don't miss a beat. Leading the charge is the incomparable Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Shyam is a beast. He's married to a young girl who used to be his student. He is now exploiting another girl without hesitation or thought. And yet, you can't hate him because Nawazuddin humanizes the character. He becomes pitiable rather than villainous.
Shweta Tripathi is heartbreaking as the girl transitioning into adulthood. There is a lovely scene in which Sandhya shares an ice-cream cone with Shyam. Their relationship has been exposed but Sandhya is laughing and teasing him. She's child-like but also stronger and more mature than Shyam. There are two more memorable characters here – Kamal, a young boy who is in love with Sandhya and his best friend Mintu who tries to unite the two. Kamal and Mintu, played by Irfan Khan and Mohammad Samad, have a lovely exuberance. They inject a shot of sparkle to this grim tale.
Despite the jerks, Haraamkhor is a strong debut. Shlok Sharma has an observant eye and the ability to empathize with even the vilest among us. That should hold him in good stead.