One wrong turn and the entire birthday is ruined.
Available in the United States and maybe a few other countries. Also on Einthusan if that works. The version that I had watched on Netflix was around 111 minutes, but the one that is available to me now is 107 minutes, so whatever.
Meera and Arjun are young relatively rich married couple living Delhi Meera works on the marketing of some sort of feminine hygiene product and Arjun…also does stuff.
Tonight, Meera and Arjun are driving to a semi-fancy party at an acquaintance’s fancy apartment. Meera doesn’t like the other people there and keeps giving reasons not to go, but Arjun dismisses what he calls her excuses. Even when they about to arrive, she suggests that they just go back home and have sex. Nope. Arjun says that they will just drop into the party quickly.
Well, the party is pretty much as annoying as Meera had feared. But it does not matter, as her workplace called and she is needed there to help with the product. Arjun, however, does not want to leave, so Meera goes off on her own.
As Meera is waiting at a stoplight, a couple of guys on a motorcycle observe her before driving past her and calling someone up. When she catches up to them, they slow down and start swerving, making it impossible to pass them. She considers turning around, only to find another car behind her. One of the people from the motorcycle takes a crowbar and smashes the driver’s side window. Terrified, Meera still manages to drive off, narrowly missing a truck.
The next day, Meera and Arjun go to the police. The officer whom they talk to notes that this would have been easier had she noticed the registration number. Then he implies that incidents like this is par for the course in a city going through growing pains (Delhi?) and he chastises Arjun for letting Meera travel at night alone. He suggests that, since Arjun does have connections in the police force, that he could get her a gun license. I am not sure how that works, but that is pretty much what he said. Meera is not too keen on that, but what else can they do? Meanwhile, the lead-up to the incident and the aftermath replay in her head.
That evening, the two lay in bed, typing away on their individual laptops. Trying to be cute, Arjun sends Meera an…instant message (?) offering to take her away from all of this for her birthday. She does not message back, but smiles at him.
Meera’s birthday is mostly at work, where they all speak English. She seems to have aced her presentation for the boss. She also discreetly brought her pistol to work. She leaves the office to see the guard yelling at Arjun for parking outside of the entrance, and then yelling at her for not following the rules. Arjun does apologize to the guard for causing trouble. He was just trying to impress Meera.
And they are off. Down National Highway 10. After giving Meera her birthday present of…a cigarette packet (?), Arjun tells her that he booked a private villa for them. She jokes that that is not exactly simply her birthday present. He tells her that it is a return present, return gift.
At one point in the drive, Arjun makes a turn, even though Meera says the map has them wait for the next turn. He insists that it is a bypass road, but Meera argues that they are going to get lost. So they stop at what looks like the entrance to a village. Arjun gets out and walks over to a group of men playing cards. He asks for directions, but they kind of mock this rich city slicker. Meanwhile, a man walks up to the car, and Meera closes the window on him. Arjun returns to the car and reassures her that this is the road, though we cannot tell how truthful the men playing cards were. Perhaps annoyed at getting insulted by those guys, Arjun complains that women cannot read maps. Their playful banter from earlier is over.
They stop at a place to get something to eat. They are about to park when Arjun almost runs over a couple of people. They run off and Arjun mutters about them trying to use his car to commit suicide. They park and get out. Meera takes the gun out of her handbag and puts it in the duffel bag. Arjun is not happy about her not keeping her gun on her person, but Meera says it should be fine since he is there. He grimaces at that, so she backtracks and complains about the gun’s weight.
Meera goes to the bathroom to smoke, and the woman whom Arjun almost ran over approaches her. She pleads for help, saying that people want to kill her and her husband. She pushes past the woman and goes back to Arjun. Suddenly, a group of men arrive, running after a man named Mukesh and beating him up. The woman, Pinky, runs out for him, only to be grabbed by one of the men.
Arjun walks over to see what is going on. Meera tries to get him to turn back, but he brushes her off. He goes over to the man who is holding Pinky and asks what is happening. The man, Satbir says that he is her brother, and this is no one else’s concern. He eventually gets his sister and Mukesh in his car. Seeing that no one else among the maybe fifty witnesses is doing anything, Arjun walks over once again. He tries to intervene, only to get slapped in the face by Satbir. She is his sister, and this is no one else’s concern. They drive off.
Arjun and Meera drive off as well. And somewhat dangerous speed. Meera is concerned for Arjun’s reckless driving, but he is incensed. And maybe ashamed. Meera tries to assure him that he did the right thing by standing up for the other married couple when no one else did, but Arjun does not want to hear it. If this is how it is going to be, Meera says, then they might as well just go back home.
But then they notice it: the other car, going off a side road. Arjun stops to get the gun and starts driving after the other car. Meera is upset and terrified. She yells at Arjun to stop this ego trip, but he is not even listening anymore. They find the other car and Arjun parks nearby. Meera is still trying to get him to turn back around, but he throws her words back at her: it will all be fine because he is here. She insists that she did not mean it like that, but he tells her that they are just some village idiots and that he is just going to scare them with the pistol. That is all.
After Arjun leaves, Meera tries to phone him only to find that he had left his cell phone in the car with her. And then there he is again: Chhotey, the man from all the way back who had approached Meera in her car before. He is doing it again. He…offers her a flower? Or he just shows it to her and puts it to his mouth. She rolls down the window slightly and asks if he had seen Arjun, but the Chhotey is interested only if he can drive the car. He makes a finger gun, meaning that he had seen Arjun. Meera’s worry overtakes her fright and she gets out of the car to ask Chhotey to take her to Arjun. Or at least point her in the general direction. She runs off looking for him.
Meanwhile, Arjun walks around the tall grass and over the hills looking for the men. He finds them as they are still dragging Mukesh and Pinky through the grass and sand. They stop at one relatively flat area and start beating on the both of them, particularly Mukesh, though Pink’s brother seems fixated on hurting her himself. And…oh Satbir is going to kill them. Arjun has to think: is he going to confront them or is he going to run? He hears Meera calling out for him. Arjun runs.
Arjun runs to Meera and tells them that they have to get out of here. These are not village idiots; they are fucking butchers. Meera yells at him for going on this fool’s mission in the first place. They encounter Chhotey and Arjun points the gun at him. Meera understands that Chhotey is a rather gentle soul and has diminished mental capacities, despite being with the group of men. She tells Arjun to put the gun down. But Arjun is too full of fear and rage to listen, not even noticing how Chhotey is reacting. Arjun is about to shoot him when the other men come up from behind and hit Arjun over the head.
Now the two of them are captives. And perhaps murder victims. Unless they can escape.
Despite a few times where the music overtakes the audio (one of which towards the end I would have rather not have been there), this movie takes a rather naturalistic tone. Yeah, I know, that is not something that one might automatically associate with Indian movies, but this would not be the first of its kind that I have featured in this series. That said, this movie really could have gone all bombastic in its storytelling, and I appreciate how it did not go in that direction. And that, aside from the songs (not singing and dancing, just music), there are few outright attempts to reach out to the Masala crowd.
This attempt to remain natural particularly extends to the cast. No, not all of them get fully fleshed out, and I am not sure exactly how accurate the portrayal of Chhotey is. Actually, I am not sure how “realistic” or fair the presentation of the characters are. Still, pretty much every character comes across as just normal. Even when they are acting at 110%, they are not larger than life, they are just life. The believability makes what happens, including the action scenes, seem more immediate and intense.
I love the relationship between Meera and Arjun. Not being a love story, the two are already married. You can see that they have history and know each other better than anyone. Their marriage is not perfect and there are tiny cracks that one might notice even from the beginning, but nothing that would break them. This is just how they are years after the honeymoon stage. It is not romantic, it is believable.
Much of this can be said about the bad guys of the piece. Except for one bit-character in a scene that definitely leaves quite an impact, none of them are portrayed as mustache-twirling villains with big sneering speeches about this and that. It is not about them having positive aspects or even understandable motivations, but that they seem human…dangerously human. They are not bent on world domination; they don’t even seem to really have a plan. It seems more like Satbir, full of righteous rage and humiliation, drags some of his family members along to hunt for his sister and her husband. After all, why else would they bring Chhotey along? The others seem perfectly fine with doling out violence, but they don’t quite have the drive that Satbir does. He may tell himself that he does not want to hurt his sister, but obligation demands it. And he takes out his anger on her for forcing him to fulfill such obligations. His anger is compounded, and his cruelty is just a sign of his anger at the violation. And, no, applying abuser’s justification for his actions is not a stretch when it comes to his character. These men are not super-criminals, they a bunch of bickering and sometimes bumbling men, desperate to set things right even as they are spiraling out of control.
And what does setting things right mean? Well…
Okay, so the movie is about honor killings. It is not the first Indian movie to do so by far, but it is the better one that I have seen. The specific honor killing issue in this movie is gotra violation. The subtitles in the movie are kind of misleading, referring to gotra as a subcaste. That may be technically true, but it requires more context than that label provides, else it can make that aspect of the movie more confusing than necessary. Gotra, from what I understand, refers to patrilineal (or matrilineal in certain areas of India) lineage. This means…I think, that Mukesh and Pinky were related by blood to some extent. Now yes, you probably do want to avoid marrying your cousin, but these gotra restrictions do not apply if the lineage is not just one gender; meaning that the child of a man and the child of his sister are allowed to marry…I think. So, that’s fine, but if the lineage is solid all of the way down, then that apparently is bad enough to require murder. Satbir and his crew treat this as a private matter, even though they are perfectly fine with committing acts of violence in full view of maybe four dozen witnesses. As long as no one intervenes, they don’t care. And why wouldn’t anyone intervene? Well…ahem…
The India of this movie seems to be separated into different circles. The city is modern, forward-looking and, yes, heavily stratified. Meera and Arjun seem to be on the higher end of that stratification, but that obviously does not prevent them from troubles or danger, even with connections to the police. That attempted assault on the street is what prompted the birthday drive to the countryside in the first place. City life is not protection from outmoded ideas. The police are rather apathetic to a woman traveling alone at night. There is at least one sexist dunderhead at Meera’s workplace. And Arjun wants to be the cool righteous hero, but those exist only in movies. Thus, he frequently risks getting himself (or that guard at Meera’s workplace) in trouble by trying to prove himself as a man to Meera. Like, she married you and she loves you; you don’t need to keep pulling that nonsense that she obviously does not appreciate. And this rural setting is not without technology like cellphones and whatnot. But, apparently, their urban life and perhaps their economic status make it possible for them to ignore cast altogether and be ignorant of its consequences. I cannot say whether this is accurate to how India is, but that is how the movie posits it: rich city slicker Meera has no idea what her caste is and probably has not even thought about it for years if ever. The ability for an Indian to not even have to think about caste or honor killings may be due to caste privilege, but I have no idea.
It is a complicated issue and I probably did not explain it properly. Don’t worry about it; the movie does not reeeeeally dwell on it. It is more of way to divide urban modernity from rural…uh…regression. I cannot say if it is a fair depiction, but it is, at least, a means to kick off the story.
The pacing and the intensity of this movie calls to mind…uh…a certain genre of film. But, while that genre of film has made its way to India, a major element was deliberately absent from this movie, even though there are moments where one viewing it for the first time may wonder if it is going to come. I guess that it would have been considered a gratuitously lurid distraction and, overall, undermine what the movie was going for. In any case, I am somewhat relieved that it was not really present in the movie.
Despite being a bit of an uncomfortable watch, it was enough of a sleeper hit for there to be talks of a sequel. I don’t know if anything came of that, probably not. In any case, we still have this movie and it is a good un.
WTF ASIA 142: Bright Future (Japan: 2002, approx. 115 minutes)
WTF ASIA 143: Helios (Hong Kong: 2015, approx. 118 minutes)