Cast: Nandita Das, Manav Kaul, Saurabh Shukla, Kishore Kadam, Omkar Sad Manakpuri, Yusuf Hussain
Director: Soumitra Ranade
Thirty-nine years after Albert Pinto, a proud car mechanic with ready rage and biker swag, made his space in the Indian lexicon, a namesake has appeared on our screens claiming to be similarly angry, and asking us, yet again, to figure out why.
Sayeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai? wasn’t a great film. It was political, had a few powerful moments — especially the scenes with Smita Patil and Rohini Hattangadi — but it had the most significant of cracks forming in the ego of its protagonist in the most subtlest of ways. It also had a context, and was rooted.
Writer-director Soumitra Ranade’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai? (APKGKAH? ) is cut from a different, patchier cloth.
His film opens on a very angsty note. It’s as if Albert Pinto (Manav Kaul) is on rollers and the mindless momentum of the world is propelling him forward. Maybe. Who knows?
And as he’s moving, looking lost, a song plays — “Maut tera intezaar…” — almost providing a caption for the scene and what is to be.
In earnest service of this calamitous note, the film ignores other, mundane details. In fact, Ranade’s APKGKAH? doesn’t really care for the details of places, people and time much. It likes to juggle stuff, keep things vague.
This APKGKAH? constantly flits between the present and the past, with each one having at least two segments that throw more questions than clarifying light on what has happened.
One segment is in a police station where a cop, Pramod Naik (Kishore Kadam), is listening to Stella (Nandita Das), Albert’s mother and brother, to try and piece together fragments of his personality, his anger, his depression for clues to where he may be, what was his pareshani, where he may have disappeared to?
And then there’s the road trip with Nayar (Saurabh Shukla).
Albert and Nayar are strangers in a jeep where one is playing with an empty gun while the other is holding on to the bullets. They are on their way to an assignment, one that Albert picked himself after chucking away his life in Mumbai.
And yet, wherever he goes, a piece of the life he left behind appears.
Slowly, with snatches of visuals, conversations and angry bursts from the past, pieces of the present start making sense and we start becoming somewhat less confused about what may have tripped Albert’s fuse and burnt all his internal wiring.
It seems, sudden tragedy led to deep ennui and a worldview where everything and everyone seemed wrong. The world itself seemed to be split between three kinds of people — the drunk drivers who are in charge and keep on crushing and killing the sad, sleeping dogs. And the crows who watch all this and, the moment they can, swoop down to feed on the dead dogs.
Albert didn’t want to be a cawing crow, it seems…
APKGKAH? demands a lot of attention. We must watch and listen carefully to make sense of it all. But that’s not easily done because we don’t care enough — especially not about Albert Pinto. And that’s partly because of the way his character has been written, and partly because of the very theatrical way in which he has been played by Manav Kaul.
While everyone around Albert, especially Stella and Nayar, are people we feel we could connect with, we want to avoid Albert because he is either having an epic meltdown or is railing angrily and rather irritatingly at all ills of the world — from consumerism to corruption, middle class complacency to 24x7 media madness.
The film’s title, then, is really a poser from the filmmaker to us — not just in the context of the film, but in the context of searching our social conscience and connecting with Albert Pinto’s anger, and perhaps being a little angry ourselves.
Problem is that Ranade’s APKGKAH? is not a well made film.
While it experiments with the narrative style and manages that quite well, its dialogue — especially between Stella and Albert — are embarrassingly stilted.
Though the movie travels around a lot, their scenes together are in crammed spaces and there isn’t much fluidity to them. They are stagey and feel artificial.
Also, though the segment at a dhaba where Albert meets a sex worker stands out, Nandita and Manav have zero chemistry.
In fact, every time Das is playing another character, she brings it to life with her twinkling charm. She comes across as much more real when she’s playing women who are essentially figments of Albert’s imagination than when she is playing Stella.
Saurabh Shukla drives the film around and yet, with his real, crude speak, and a natural performance, he grounds it.
Sayeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko… had a context — post-Emergency, in the midst of the mill hartal in what was then called Bombay. It also had some very fine Christian characters.
Ranade’s APKGKAH? is a bit lapata and none of the characters are interesting enough.
And while it’s interesting to see how, in these 39 years, Christians may have been completely divested of all signs of their identity except, perhaps, Stella’s dresses, no character gets fully formed because the film is not really interested in them. Ranade’s Albert Pinto Ko… is only interested in expressing its gussa. And that made me gussa.