By Gaurav Mokhasi
It was apparent from its trailer that Haraamkhor wasn’t going to be a film that was interested in moral grandstanding. What wasn’t clear was whether the film would then take the other extreme, and channel the overt anti-morality of predecessors like Raman Raghav 2.0. Thankfully, and to its credit, Haraamkhor circumvents even the latter pothole, instead reveling in an amorality that is of an everyday variety.
Nawazuddin portrays Shyam Tekchand, an insidious sexual predator who earns his livelihood by tutoring local kids in math. His interest in one of his students, the 15 year old Sandhya (played with unexpected credibility by 27 year old Shweta Tripathi), is so palpable that even his pre-teen students catch on to what’s happening. One of these students, Kamal (Irfan Khan), is besotted with Sandhya, and enlists the help of his friend Mintu to win her favor.
Nawazuddin does more with less. An almost unconscious depravity permeates all his scenes, be it while lying to his wife Sunita (also an ex-student of his) or while ‘flirting’ with a visibly uncomfortable parent/co-worker. His abusive nature is portrayed through outbursts of anger in which he beats up his students under the guise of disciplining them. So when Shyam makes stumbling attempts at coercing Sandhya into sex (and succeeds), it doesn’t take much for the scenes to be extremely disturbing.
Haraamkhor doesn’t pull punches when it comes to Sandhya either. She voyeuristically looks on as Shyam and Sunita have sex, regularly uses the absence of her taciturn, emotionally oblivious father to sneak in private moments with Shyam, and is amused (even emboldened) when let off the hook by her father’s girlfriend Neelu at the OB/GYN clinic. In light of scenes such as this, the moral police might be quick to express a facile condemnation of her character. But what they fail to understand is that this is what kids do. Children lack the faculty required to give consent, and this is why the onus to exercise constraint and act responsibly is always, and unequivocally, on the adults.
The film’s pre-teens, Kamal and Mintu, serve for the longest part as the film’s comic relief. Mohammad Samad’s twinkling eyes and the naughty manner in which he spews harebrained pearls of childish ‘wisdom’, ensure that his Mintu is the film’s most memorable character. Jasleen Royal’s light and peppy soundtrack is perfect here.
Unfortunately, Haraamkhor shoots itself in the foot with a third act that falls woefully short of expectations. A tender scene between Sandhya and Neelu notwithstanding, the pacing here is irritatingly haphazard to the point of being dissonant. The climax itself comes out of nowhere and is unbelievable to the point of being laughable. One can’t help but wonder what might have been, had the film gone with a pluckier ending that showed its Haraamkhor go about his life without consequence.
Haraamkhor ultimately leaves you feeling confused and shortchanged, which is a real pity because it takes away from what is otherwise a brave film with effective, understated performances.
Watch Anupama Chopra's review of Haraamkhor here –