Ardh chronicles the struggles of an aspiring actor named Shiva played by Rajpal Yadav, who has to moonlight as a transgender woman begging for alms to feed his family. In theory, this movie could have been an insightful study into not only the struggles of breaking into Bollywood but also of the challenges faced by transgender people in India. However, it fails to make a meaningful statement about either.
This story is supposed to serve as a semiautobiographical account of Rajpal Yadav’s own struggles to become a part of the film industry. The problem with its critiques of Bollywood is that it points out the most obvious flaws in the industry like nepotism or the prioritizing of looks over talent without making any deeper observations about them. For example, the movie could have talked about how actors like Yadav don’t get starring roles in real life partly because of the viewing audience’s preference of seeing conventionally attractive actors in the main roles. The film doesn’t do this though, choosing instead to put the blame on those in the industry for being lazy hacks who want to hold back actual talent.
What is ironic is that despite the movie being dedicated to Sushant Singh Rajput and Irrfan Khan for succeeding as so-called outsiders to the film industry, it completely dismisses actors with no ties to Bollywood who have used social media to enter B-town with Shiva saying, “10×10 ke room me mobile rakh diya, chaar paanch filter badal diye isse acting thori na kehte hain?”
Similarly, the filmmakers don’t address issues faced by transgender women in India at all. Shiva gets away with going out of his home dressed as a woman by explaining that he’s getting into character for a role in a big film, which feels like a hokey explanation. For a movie wanting to depict struggles realistically, it completely glosses over the backlash Shiva’s family members could get as a result of him dressing up in women’s clothes. In reality, a situation like this would have caused quite a stir in the small neighbourhood Shiva lives in, but in this make-believe world, the neighbours somehow aren’t shocked, preferring instead to focus on Shiva’s dedication to his craft.
Further, the script does a bad job of giving Rubina Dilaik any character apart from being supportive. Madhu has to do the cooking and cleaning of multiple houses to support her husband and child all while having to deal with the abuse of demanding employers. However, there is barely any showcase of her inner turmoil apart from a select few scenes.
All these flaws could have been overlooked if there was any drama or suspense to hook the audience in. Unfortunately, there is hardly any tension since at no point does the audience ever feel that Shiva has any real chance of making it, nor do they believe that he will give up his dreams so that he can pursue some other line of work. While this is kind of the point of the story as it aims to show how people pursuing big dreams in big cities often end up chasing them forever, it renders the film as nothing more than a montage of sad moments.
Throughout the movie, it’s teased that there will be great consequences for Shiva if he’s ever found out for who he truly is. This is never followed up on as Shiva doesn’t have to face the wrath of the Kinnar community he has infiltrated, who somehow blindly accept his cover stories when he disappears for auditions.
The biggest issue by a country mile is the technical aspect of the film. It’s very obvious to see that this production has a shoestring budget as the sound dubbing and cinematography are really low grade, to the point that it feels like a bad YouTube video. The sound dubbing is particularly poor for the child actor; in one scene his lips don’t even move while delivering dialogue.
Ardh does have some merit though — Yadav does a good job despite the limitations of the script. His performance is quite compelling and he is humorous without ever feeling like a clown, all while doing a great job of capturing the sympathy of the viewers. One can’t help being taken in by his endearing delusions of stardom.
The film also does well in showing what a treacherous path it is to give up on one’s education to pursue an acting career. Throughout the film, Yadav implores his son to study rather than give up on his textbooks to become a cricketer because while there are obviously successful exceptions there are a thousand failures as well. Without something to fall back on, one can end up floundering even if they’re a talented actor with many years of experience — much like the main character of the film.
While Ardh has some redeeming qualities to go alongside a decent soundtrack featuring the likes of Sonu Nigam, it is hard to see it as anything but a disappointment especially considering that Yadav, despite his comedic reputation, has previously done well in more serious roles, such as his performance in Jungle. With a bad script and many technical deficiencies, Ardh’s social commentary falls flat, leaving it thoroughly forgettable.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.