Mumbai, 21 Sep 2020 15:19 IST
Randeep Jha's film sees a grieving father's search for the truth blow the lid off an insidious conspiracy
The nail-biting plot of Halahal is set in motion by a frantic chase. An unidentified young woman, hot on the heels of a youth on the run, comes to a sticky end while vainly attempting to secure a pen drive from him. While the ill-fated pursuer is eventually revealed to be Archana, a medical student at Ghaziabad Medical College and daughter of Dr Shiv Shankar Sharma (Sachin Khedekar), the mystery of the pen drive's contents is not so readily divulged.
Dr Sharma, deeply unsatisfied with the local police's hasty and slipshod investigation, doesn't buy their claims of suicide. With no hope in sight, the bereaving father enlists the help of unapologetically corrupt cop Yusuf Qureshi (Barun Sobti) to get to the bottom of the mystery. But as the unlikely collaborators delve deeper into the case, they come to realize that major forces are involved who will stop at nothing to save their skin, and every revelation leads them further down the rabbit hole.
While the dauntless Dr Sharma has no qualms about risking life and limb to get to the truth, the workings of Qureshi's mind are tantalizingly opaque and his motivations are dubious at best. The tension quotient is significantly amped up by the uncertainty surrounding whether or not the law enforcer, an unabashed beneficiary of graft, will sell out to the powers that be.
Though Halahal is the personal story of a father's loss, the murky goings-on in the film draw from the sinister Vyapam scam, an entrance examination, admission, and recruitment racket in the medical and state employee recruitment in Madhya Pradesh. The scam was carried out with the help of paid proxy students who appeared for exams for undeserving students, teachers, senior and junior officials, and businessmen. The gruesome murders that came to light in the wake of the scam, which is explicitly mentioned in newspaper clippings in the film, still continue to haunt public memory.
The film has been written by Zeshan Quadri, who came up with the story, and Gibran Noorani, who wrote the dialogue and fleshed out the gripping screenplay. The film has you second-guessing yourself as to who's telling the truth and who's the real culprits. In some instances, our protagonists are led down blind alleys by corrupt officials and in others, revelations come out of nowhere, while still remaining within the realm of possibility. The film's biggest strength, however, lies in its uncompromising climax that is guaranteed to sucker punch you.
Director Randeep Jha shows promise with his debut feature film and his fluent command over the visual medium is plain to see. The director has worked with Anurag Kashyap as an assistant director and the latter's influence doesn't fly under the radar, especially when morbid and absurd situations are played up for laughs, a trait that is generally associated with Kashyap's films.
Khedekar, a prominent figure in Marathi cinema is seen in playing a lead role after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005). Off late, the actor has been playing comic relief and bit roles in Hindi films but Halahal marks a comeback, with the veteran delivering a pitch-perfect performance. The standout performer, however, is Sobti, whose minor touches such as posture and dialect brings much-needed humour to the otherwise bleak film. From his laidback Arjun in Tu Hai Mera Sunday (2017) to brooding forensic expert Nikhil Nair in Asur (2020), Sobti has made a name for himself with his unusual choices in his brief career, and Halahal is yet another feather in his cap.
All in all, Halahal is a praiseworthy effort by Jha and the writers who weave a gripping mystery around a terrible real-life event.
Halahal is streaming on Eros Now
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