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Irada  : Sterling Intentions
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Friday, February 17, 2017
Drama
Aparnaa Singh
Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Sagarika Ghatge, Sharad Kelkar, Divya Dutta

Did you know that a cancer train runs in Punjab? That like chai and samosa vendors, insurance agents and blood-sellers prey on the patients in the bogeys of this train?

 

This was disturbing new information for me and writer-director Aparnaa Singh weaves it deftly into a fictional tale based on real hair-raising facts on eco-terrorism in Punjab. Her narration is clear and focused with the help of well-etched characters.

 

The relationship between much-decorated army officer Parabjeet Walia and his daughter Riya that culminates in tragedy is the take-off point.

 

You leap to a year later to find a completely new set of characters. Meet Paddy, an influential industrialist who’s been contaminating the groundwater with impunity. He’s the main fund-raiser for Chief Minister Ramandeep Braitch, a fact he never lets her forget.     

 

But somebody wants revenge. Mysterious blasts in Paddy’s factories bring NIA officer Arjun Mishra into town. Here’s where he meets the malevolent Chief Minister and desperate journalist Maya who has a file on the contamination that’s causing widespread cancer around the place.

 

Aparnaa’s fluid writing mixes the poignancy of tragedy and the mystery of the blasts with a whiff of politics and a small helping of humour. It’s a stark but interesting thriller without morbidity.

 

Chief Minister Ramandeep Braitch, spelt Braitch, has a Jayalalithaa-style imperiousness with no chair on the other side of her desk. When Arjun Mishra arrives to investigate the blasts, and the CM crudely orders him to close the file the way she wants it done, he stands there nodding pliantly. But when he leaves, a few letters from the nameplate on the CM’s desk go missing. It now reads: RA..NDEE  B…ITCH. It sums up what the officer really thinks of her with just that touch of unexpected wit.

 

The film is effective also because of its fantastic array of actors. Divya Dutta makes a perfectly crafty CM right up to the facial twitch. Naseeruddin Shah reaches out to the viewer as the grieving father and the retired army man skilled at strategising a battle. Arshad Warsi as Arjun Mishra who is smart enough to play dumb before the Chief Minister before pulling the rug from under her feet is like a chameleon.  Sagarika Ghatge is attractive and delivers well as Maya the journo. Sharad Kelkar as the entitled industrialist, Rajesh Mishra as his flunky, and Prashantt Gupta as a pawn, add variety to a professional ensemble.

 

But Irada does have its flaws.  

 

You applaud the subtlety of the unstated when Naseeruddin conveys his loss without the cliché of visuals showing life ebbing out of a cancer patient. But Aparnaa later spoils the effect with a flashback that hammers home the loss, totally unnecessary as the emotion was already put across with such admirable competence.

 

One could also find the solution of dealing with the CM and the industrialist more simplistic than realistic. But ultimately, in cinema such as Irada, it’s the problem and not the solution that needs emphasis and Aparnaa does it with an efficiency that never betrays she’s a first-time director.

 

For a well-told and well-enacted film which spotlights the vital crime of eco-terrorism that’s ruining Punjab today, Irada gets a 3.5* rating.  

 

Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author

 

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