It must be noted right away that certain films are assessed for their storytelling creativity and not for their commercial viability. With Sanjay Mishra at the steering wheel, Vadh will be applauded by the discerning but will bring a frown to the brow of those who look only at box-office numbers.
Written and directed by first-timers Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajeev Barnwal, they choose an interesting way to tell their tale about retired schoolteacher Shambhunath Mishra (Sanjay Mishra) and wife Manju (Neena Gupta). In the bylanes of Gwalior, you watch her nurse a painful knee but still climb to the terrace to do her tulsi puja while he waits for her downstairs.
You watch the couple go to a cyber café to video call their son who’s more annoyed at their intrusion than happy to hear from them. With that call you know their son is in the US, has a wife and daughter, and is too busy to visit Gwalior. Indeed, to even entertain his parents anymore.
Given to a lot of silences, the teacher articulates his disappointment by venting, “Is Erika any name for our grandchild? Erika Mishra?”
Four scenes sum up their life wordlessly. While Manju sleeps on the terrace, Masterji sits by a small light and reads. There is an unspoken togetherness however different their pursuits.
There are mice scampering around but Manju’s clear that even pests can’t be killed in their Godfearing vegetarian house.
The bank has cut more than the usual interest. You can feel the financial pinch in Masterji’s crestfallen face.
A young neighbour insists on giving the teacher a lift but it’s only to make him carry dozens of boxes that he has to deliver. He blithely ditches the teacher halfway once his work’s done. The young using the old, a thought Aparna Sen had put across with sensitivity in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), casting Jennifer Kapoor as her protagonist.
While the basics are set in a straightforward manner, the intrigue creeps in when a boorish Prajapati Pandey (Saurabh Sachdeva) knocks late at night with booze, chicken tikka and a girl under his arm, and Masterji helplessly lets him in. Even sits out while the crude man uses the bedroom, quietly cleans up and gets rid of the used condom after he’s gone. Who’s Pandey and why is being entertained in this pooja-paath house?
But when push comes to shove, and a holy line is crossed, even the silently resilient can do the unimaginable.
You actually want to cheer Masterji when he’s pushed to the wall and suddenly strikes. There’s a nice shot of Manju reacting in the mirror to the uncharacteristic violence in the next room. And a shot where Masterji sleeps peacefully thereafter while she’s awake. As he later explains to her, “I haven’t killed anybody. Vadh kiya hai, I have destroyed evil.” It’s like the killing of Raavan, a moral score.
By the time Inspector Shakti Singh (Manav Vij) sniffs Masterji’s involvement in the disappearance of a bully and sets off on his trail, in bits and pieces, you understand the tight spot in which the US-based son has put his own parents.
It’s the manner in which Jaspal and Rajeev unravel a familiar Baghban tale of ageing parents and callous offspring and the last sequence between Inspector Shakti Singh and Shambunath Mishra at the cop station that give a good idea of how the new filmmakers want to write their stories differently. The high rating is a thumbs up to the storytelling and to Sanjay Mishra’s flawless performance of a peaceful, upright man who believes that what he did was justified.
Watch it if commercial marketability isn’t your measuring tape.
Watch the trailer of Vadh: