Director: Sameer Hemant Joshi
Cast: Vinay Pathak, Ayesha Raza, Siddharth Menon, Sheetal Thakur
Streaming on: Hotstar
Vinay Pathak plays Sharad Gupchup, a middle-class, honest, but irate man with simmering political ambitions. He is also an unquestioning believer of Modi’s clean-up campaign, both cash, and trash (Demonetization, and Swachh Bharat).
He has a wife who sells papad (Ayesha Raza, whose saris reminded me of Vidya Sinha in the 70s, think Chotti Si Baat), a daughter who works diligently but loves discreetly (Sheetal Thakur), and a son who is a photographer, toeing the line between a wastrel and an employed artist (Siddharth Menon).
He is in the throes of middle-class woes; medical bills, a scam scheme, and mounting informal loans. When Sharad is confronted with a bag, flush with cash, almost tearing at the seams with notes, he has a more urgent worry- whether to surrender the money to the authorities, or to use it to propel his political ambitions, and his family’s desire to move into a more affluent income category.
But soon, things unravel.
A squirrel that observed the theft of cash haunts Sharad, as if it was his moral conscience. So when, after a while, the film has completely done away with the squirrel trope, we realize that Sharad has slipped down the slippery slope towards moral indignity. Lady Macbeth too, in the aftermath of murder, hallucinated blood stains, a sign of her conscience. Shakespeare didn’t write about a world in which she stops being haunted and continues living. In that sense, this film goes where Macbeth doesn’t.
Chhapad Phaad Ke then becomes the story of a malleable moral compass, and how greed cascades- from one family member to another. Morality, is often a luxury and constructed, and when you are pushed against the wall, it becomes the most disposable asset.
The political undertones of this film are embedded on shaky ground. The film is set around the time of November 8, 2018, when the tragic and farcical Demonetization policy was announced. Sharad’s support for Modi is framed by his performative incorruptibility; his reputation of being prim-and-proper. This of course, is not true, for behind the limelight he is using blood money to bolster his political campaigns. (A scene where Sharad converses with a friend about the importance of political funding to win, and not just run, is astoundingly prescient in today’s political context) There is also the obvious imagery of the jhadu, a swipe at the Aam Aadmi Party.
The narration is shaky, and you are not entirely sure of or invested in the film’s trajectory after Sharad’s morality is forsaken.
These references, while making the viewing experience more intriguing, add little to the narrative heft. Movies made for streaming no longer have the compunctions to structure a story with an intermission. But doing away with the stitched-two-part-story can also be dangerous, as the story can lurk chaotically, and this movie is a case in point. The narration is shaky, and you are not entirely sure of or invested in the film’s trajectory after Sharad’s morality is forsaken.
I was reminded of Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), and how Kamal Khosla holds out, chastising the righteous cash laundering that his family is involved in. Here, Sharad Gupchp’s character is initially written like that, till he slips off. Maybe it is the times we live in where this righteous cash laundering, a mixed signal, feels like a dangerous cinematic trope to show. What if people get the wrong idea? How do you then show mortal greed cinematically? What would Mr.Khosla do, if he were written in a post Modi India?