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Good Guy Bad Guy review: A ragpicker dreams of cinema between jail sentences and feeding sessions

Release Date: 16 Nov 2018 / 01hr 18min

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Shriram Iyengar

Indu Krishnan's engrossing documentary delves into the cinematic dreams of a ragpicker charged with murder.

"Perhaps it was compassion," says Indu Krishnan at a pivotal moment in her documentary. "Or the realization that without Zakhir, there would be no film." It is this unbiased observation of her own self-interest that defines her documentary, Good Guy Bad Guy. 

The engrossing story begins with the US-returned Indu's search for a ragpicker she befriended on her morning walks in Bangalore's Cubbon Park. Zakhir, the ragpicker, is a dreamy, 27-year old who spends his free time feeding the monkeys and animals in the park.

It is a search for him that lands Indu and her camera in Bangalore jail, where Zakhir is lodged, accused of murder. 

The documentary might have been just as engrossing if it were the tale of a young man whose dreams had been crushed in a cruel society. But Indu explores the duality of the city of Bangalore, its people, and above all Zakhir himself. As he sings in a song, 'I am a bad man. I have always been what I have been'. 

As the filmmaker explores Zakhir's life, reaching out to his deaf-mute mother and sister, whom he has abandoned, there is a tinge of regret. Her revelation of Zakhir being in jail only ruins their hope that perhaps he is doing well. 

Indu Krishnan herself shares a certain suspicion of her subject. A suspicion she shares with the shopkeepers who, while praising Zakhir's nature and character, seek to avoid him. 

But the portrayal of Zakhir is unbiased. The camera follows his nuances, hesitation and fears, and the complexity of a human dream and its failure. What makes the documentary even more alluring is its portrayal of the intimate role of cinema as the lowest common denominator. Zakhir's cinematic dreams add drama to the story and peel off layers of the character to explain the true meaning of the title. He is not the simple dreamer he comes across as; he, like Indu, seeks to use the attention of the documentary to achieve his own dreams. But he lacks any focus towards it. 

Indu Krishnan's documentary is an exploratory piece of work that is engrossing but non-judgemental. As it follows Zakhir, it also documents the changing layers of the sprawling metropolis that is Bangalore today. Behind the seemingly eternal traffic and IT hubs lie streets filled with scrap-dealing businesses, sweepers, and the hawkish eye of cops who watch over all of them. 

In the end, the documentary manages to create what it sets out to — a complex, moving portrayal of a man stuck in the circumstances of his own creation.

Good Guy Bad Guy will be screened at the Urban Lens film festival in New Delhi from 16–18 November 2018.

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Urban Lens

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