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
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
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
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.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author