If you thought that Haraamkhor is going to be a sweet-little, coming-of-age film set in a small village, then think again. Yes, it’s sweet, but there’s also a whole lot of bitter to even it out. If you were having doubts about watching it just because the Censor Board painted it as something immoral propagating sick ideas, then the reality couldn’t be further from this. Yes, you’ll feel sick in portions, but only from the topically disturbing things depicted on screen. And if you thought of giving it a skip because it isn’t commercially appealing or doesn’t look massy enough for you, then you’d be doing yourself a great disservice. Yes, it isn’t massy, but boy is it entertaining and not for a moment is its stark, discomforting subject ever presented in grim tones.
Haraamkhor is set in a little, rural town in Gujarat, where Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays high school teacher, Shyam, who also runs a side tuition business. He’s pretty good at his job, so there are no complaints in that department. The grievances arise when he eggs on one of his senior students, Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), after she shows more than an academic interest in him. Initially, you think that he’s probably letting it slide as a routine case of school-girl infatuation, but, as time passes, writer-Director Shlok Sharma masterfully reveals how he plays mind-games to keep leading her on and then, finally, pounce like a vulture when his prey is at her most vulnerable.
Now all this may seem too heavy and even somewhat harrowing for certain viewers, especially those accustomed to a lighter, simpler, and frothier style of cinema. But, the earlier reference to Shlok being masterful was made for a reason. He interweaves this complex tapestry of emotions, deceit, and underage sex with so many amusing moments that not once does the film hit you hard or its subject matter feel queasy. There are scenes of genuine laugh-out-loud humor, particularly concerning Shyam’s tuition students, with even the most-minor roles leaving a lasting impression. Minor characters – both in age and screen-time – like Shaktimaan interject dollops of humor to the proceedings, which is testimony to the casting director’s brilliant selection, and their comic scenes never feel forced or contrived, which is proof of Shlok’s abundant talent and expertise.
It’s a pity that we had to wait for four years after his debut feature (he has previously dabbled only in shorts) was ready in a mere sixteen days. We hope that the wait for his sophomore effort his much shorter. Shlok’s skills also come to the fore in the presentation of two other important characters in the film, Kamal, Sandhya’s classmate who has a crush on her, and Mintu, another classmate who helps his best pal Kamal all the way. Their scenes together make up some of the most refreshing and hilarious moments in the film, and bring back memories of Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor’s legendary dual comic acts. A cue for how big-budget filmmakers helming lavishly mounted, star-studded comedies can keep things simple yet continually funny.
Speaking of important characters; it’s time to tip our unanimously tip our hats to Nawaz bhai. You think he’s supremely talented. Well, you’ve seen nothing yet. Of all the exceptional performances he’s rendered hitherto on screen, his haraamkhori in Haraamkhor ranks right up there with his acts in Gangs of Wasseypur and Raman Raghav 2.0. You’ll despise him to the core, loathe his guts, and feel disgusted at his very sight; that’s how well he gets into the skin of the underage violator. There are villains like Gabbar, Mogambo, SRK in Darr, and Nawaz himself – from last year’s Raman Raghav – whom you love to hate and remain shocked with their villainy. And then, there are contemptuous ones like Shyam in Haraamkhor whom you’ll feel sick to just look at and only despise with pure hatred. But, hold on, we haven’t finished with praising Nawaz. If you think for a second that you can keep hating him throughout the film, then you’re sadly mistaken. Despite all the scornful things he does, you can’t help but burst out with laughter as he switches with ease between being devious and humorous. Very few actors in the world can pull off what he’s done.
Shweta Tripathi gives Nawaz good company as the impressionable student who gets sucked into a wicked world that’s years beyond her grasp or maturity. You feel for her vulnerability, understand her plight, and wish to protect her as she gets further exploited. As is, it’s no small feat for a 30-something to convincingly play a 15-somethings, and then to back it up with such a performance speaks volumes of her talent.
So, is the film flawless? Well, as good as the script, Direction, lighting, cinematography, editing (the technical departments superbly complement the film’s bare and delicate tone), and performances are, it must still be remembered that it’s the Director’s debut feature and a few trivial inconsistencies do arise with the continuity and narration. But that only if you want to really nitpick.
There’s a scene in the film that shows Nawaz helping an aged man onto a bus that he boards with Shweta for a trip to an abortion clinic. That about sums up the film’s message of not judging a book from its cover, something that the censors and we, as a society in general, are too guilty of nowadays. Haraamkhor is pure brilliance that simultaneously moves you, angers you, amuses you, and talks to your most human side. Imperative viewing!
Movified Rating: 4/5
Images Source: Sikhya Entertainment