Writer, Director: Bugs Bhargava Krishna
Producer: Pradeep Uppoor, Seema Mohaptra, Jahanara Bhagava, Dhirajj Vinodd Kapoor
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Manav Kaul, Rajit Kapur, Anand Tiwari, Madoo Shah
Streaming Platform: Zee5
Mild spoilers ahead
At the heart of Nail Polish written and directed by Bugs Bhargava Krishna (creator of the famous line ‘Taste The Thunder’) is the question of body-mind duality- are the body and mind separate entities? This question has plagued philosophers like Descartes, filmmakers like Shankar (the climax of Robot/Enthiran was essentially this) and writers like Avni Doshi, whose book Burnt Sugar was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year. In it a daughter wants to avenge the misdeeds of a brutal mother, but the mother herself is descending into amnesia. How could she then punish the body of her mother, when it was the mind, now slipping away, that was concocting all the violence?
The same question is asked here, in the guise of the courtroom drama genre. Veer Singh (Manav Kaul), who used to work as an undercover agent for the country, and is now settled in Lucknow training kids in cricket, is accused of raping and murdering two kids.
The first half has the swiftness of a questionably plotted courtroom drama, with some unique flourishes. Arjun Rampal plays Sid Jaisingh (not Siddharth Jaisingh because he’s cool and casual like that), and Anand Tiwari plays Amit Kumar, the lawyer Sid is fighting against. The fascinating part here is that the 2-hour film isn’t interested in whether Veer Singh did what he is accused of doing. There are asides, where we are shown the alcoholic wife of the judge, and the asthmatic predicaments of the lawyer. These aren’t scenes to move the story forward, but to deepen the character. There’s a wonderful moment where before Judge Bhushan (Rajit Kapur) is going to deliver his judgment, he is beading the rosary and praying to a small statue of Ganesha. I was reminded of Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (though, of course, that film is technically in a different league), where he gives the viewer a sense of the casual bigotry of those fighting for and against, and the capacity for violence that the judges who condemn have. It breaks the notion of the “impartial” law. Something similar happens here, but under the garbs of badly written dialogue, and some questionably plotted scenes- the entire courtroom drama has neither the laziness of court-reality nor the dynamism of court-fiction.
The film thus only works because of its attempts to go beyond the courtroom drama genre. This is sad because it renders all the statistics and quotes about migrant children (pasted on monochrome deep-focused photos) disappearing empty of meaning and impact.
The second half which casts aspersion on who Veer Singh actually is, has elements of the shoddy, which is overshadowed by the superb acting- you know as a viewer that you are seeing a caricature, but you are not able to put a finger on what exactly is caricature-ish because it seems to naturally blend into the universe of all things outrageous. The two halves, dealing with two entirely different premises, thus gives the sense of a film that isn’t sure of what it wants to say, but even as it is indecisive, it is entertaining.
The sausage-fest of men is punctuated by some female presence- mostly in flashbacks, and side vignettes. Of course the alcoholic wife is patted and powdered to perfection. There are images of idyll shot by Deep Metkar, that keeps the visuals of the film from collapsing under the possible weight of being B-grade. If nothing else, this movie is a testament to how well-framed, well-acted films can elevate even the banal writing, even if it cannot entirely transcend the banality.