Sargoshiyan Review: A Technically Inept Mess, Film Companion
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Director: Imran Khan

Cast: Indraneil Sengupta, Hasan Zaidi, Sara Khan, Imran Khan, Aditi Bhatia

You know how you just have to be nice to the kid whose birthday party you’ve been invited to? Everyone knows he can be a dimwitted delinquent of the highest order, but his rich parents have organized the bash so sincerely that you’re forced to smile indulgently when he cutely vomits over your shoes, or clap politely when he trips over his own shoelaces. That’s exactly how I feel when I watch films like Sargoshiyan.

It’s not only an overall incompetence in craft and common sense, but also the event of the ‘press screening’ itself – littered with quasi-critics, has-beens, freeloaders, well-wishers of the makers, often hosted by the humble makers standing outside with hands folded in reverence, who’re somehow convinced that this is a product worth unveiling to the world.

Vikram (Indraneil Sengupta) is a fashion photographer whose evil wife Ragini sounds as if she were tired of being an extra on Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls. Ragini grits her teeth, ups the 1960s vamp quotient and hisses to her husband in varying tones that he is a “below-average bloody photographer” and “a sissy pimp who is born to pay my bills”.  In one of the flashbacks, it is revealed that she aborted his baby because she didn’t want to ruin her body.

Some journalists however consider it a moral obligation to acknowledge the makers (and their painfully kind faces). Here, I hear whispery phrases like: “sir, kya solid locations hai!” or “you’re the funniest part of the film! So cute!” and “Oh, I need to do another vacation to Kashmir!” In not so many words, this means that the film sucks and is the most harebrained thing of the year.

But obviously, why be honest with the hard-working makers who’ve taken the trouble to travel extensively across Kashmir and shoot a glorified 112-minute tourist home-video advertisement to show that the region is not only about terrorism? After all, it’s all about intent these days. By ignoring certain harsh truths, they will of course cease to exist.

Sargoshiyan looks like the kind of technically inept 1990s B-grade TV drama that would’ve looked dated even if it were to release in 1989. It is about two best friends from Mumbai, Vikram and Aryan, who let Kashmir change their outlook of life.

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Vikram (Indraneil Sengupta) is a fashion photographer whose evil wife Ragini sounds as if she were tired of being an extra on Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls. Ragini grits her teeth, ups the 1960s vamp quotient and hisses to her husband in varying tones that he is a “below-average bloody photographer” and “a sissy pimp who is born to pay my bills”. I’m surprised she wasn’t shown smoking a cigarette. In one of the flashbacks, it is revealed that she aborted his baby because she didn’t want to ruin her body.

Poor Vikram takes up a calendar-shoot assignment commissioned by a bank that wants him to identify the soul of their troubled region – the beauty and simple people, not the guns and bullets that Hindi films have long been “promoting”. He travels across Kashmir with the equally troubled Aryan, whose parents think he is useless because he drinks a lot and looks almost as old as his stepmother. To be fair, the actor’s red eyes and heavy bags make him look like he has just snorted a line and has refused glycerin to appear more emotionally authentic. Not in one scene does he look sober. Or stable.

Sargoshiyan Review: A Technically Inept Mess, Film Companion

They are joined by a desi Londoner, Sheena (Sara Khan), who has eyes for Vikram and is doing her Ph.D. on Kashmiri history, and who speaks in the kind of shattering high-pitched mousy tone reminiscent of Devika’s (Pooja Bedi, in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar) bespectacled best friend, the one who started every sentence with “Dear”. They are driven around by an eager bank employee (director-actor Imran Khan), who thinks he must appear mentally diminished to serve as the comic relief of his film.

On their way, they encounter chapter-wise children’s-playbook-style experiences: a kind mother (Farida Jalal; still has it) waiting for her dead son, Aryan’s long-lost Pandit grandfather (Alok Nath; sanskaari as ever), a famous India-loving white photographer (Tom Alter) and a bitter local guide (Shahbaz Khan; human manifestation of a loud heart-attack) with a sick daughter. To save this little girl, there is a scene where Aryan, Vikram and Sheena decide to use social media (“Let’s make this video go viral!”) to make people fund her “quarter-million pound” surgery in London. Basically, they look at their smartphones all night, waiting for donations to pour in. Not to mention the one riff of the same title song that is used repeatedly in parts to remind us that the budget was just about enough to create some music.

I feel sorry – not angry – about the worldview of the minds that conceive such movies. They spend years in the industry, jaded and perhaps so appalled by the cynicism of these times that they choose to go the other way: complete and utter denial. Their storytelling intellect regresses back to child-level functioning, bereft of tone, awareness and knowledge of the medium. The result is such work.

It’s everybody’s fault, really. Not only the parents/producers who indulge and encourage them without an ounce of constructive criticism, but even the “journalists” who shake their hands confidently while walking out of the hall.

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