Director: Dipesh Jain
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Om Singh, Neeraj Kabi, Shahana Goswami, Ranvir Shorey
Gali Guleiyan is a film about a maze – both mental and physical. Khuddoos lives in one of the narrow lanes in Old Delhi. It’s a vast and bewildering network of homes scrunched up against each other. When he looks up, he can barely see the sky through the balconies and electricity wires. In a top shot, it resembles an ant colony.
But the film’s piercing tragedy comes from the maze that is Khuddoos’ mind. He lives alone. He spends most of his time in a room with monitors hooked to cameras through which he spies on his neighbours. Khuddoos is a voyeur but he doesn’t use the information he has for any gain. He merely gazes at the display of venality, greed and immorality. One day, through the walls, he hears a teenage boy being abused and becomes obsessed with helping him. That boy is Idris, the local butcher’s son. Idu has an angelic face but his wise eyes have seen too much suffering. Especially that of his mother Saira, a woman caged in as much by the maze as her circumstances.
Debutant director Dipesh Jain, who has also written the story, unfolds this dual narrative with expert control. The two stories weave in and out of each other until the climactic twist, which, if you are paying attention, you are likely to guess earlier. But the dialogue becomes more poignant in hindsight. Each fragment of Khuddoos’ shattered life asserts itself in his descent into paranoia and madness.
This is a difficult and unforgiving role. A lesser actor would have asked more blatantly for our sympathy or given us some comfort to clutch on to. But Manoj Bajpayee understands that Khuddoos is broken irreparably. His mind is a fog of memories and punishments. Manoj plumbs the depths of Khuddoos’ scarred soul. He is absolutely terrific.
So is the supporting cast. Neeraj Kabi, with kohl-rimmed eyes, is Idu’s abusive father. Even when he’s being affectionate, you can feel the violence simmering underneath. Shahana Goswami as Idu’s source of love and comfort has a melancholic warmth. The always reliable Ranvir Shorey playing Khuddoos’ only friend, brings heft. And Om Singh as Idu has a depth and presence that equals the adults.
Gali Guleiyan relies heavily on atmospherics, much of which is created by Kai Miedendorp’s masterful camerawork. It snakes into the warren of lanes and decrepit rooms. There is an abiding sense of claustrophobia. Everything seems slightly rotten. I will warn you that the psychological drama does feel a bit too neatly crafted and pat especially in its conclusion. I also found the horrors of Khuddoos’ life stretched and somewhat overbearing. In one scene, he grimly stitches his own hand.
But there is enough to admire in this ambitious first film – especially the unstinting talent of Manoj Bajpayee.