Verdict – “Does Not Live Up To Its Potential!?”
The gold standard for dacoit movies was given to us by Shekhar Kapoor in the form of Bandit Queen (1996). The look, language and the essence of that movie are what made it a classic. In some ways, Sonchiriya attempts to and successfully replicates the things that made Bandit Queen so compelling, but in some ways, it also does not live up to its potential.
The story takes place against the backdrop of an Emergency, but we only learn that from several references to it on the Television playing in the background. Dacoit Man Singh (Bajpayee) leads his gang of rebels through the dusty and unforgiving Chambal Valley. They are being chased through these ravines by the police led by Ashutosh Rana’s character who has a personal vendetta against Man Singh and his men. What ensues is a dangerous game of Cat and Mouse through the valley.
The world of Sonchiriya is deeply patriarchal and divided along the caste lines. Few scenes feel like a slap in the face for example; when a doctor is unwilling to treat a dying girl because she is an untouchable or when a son is ready to kill his mother because she has besmirched the “honour” of the family. The crucial part of the story involves Pednekar who plays a woman on the run trying to save the life of a little girl.
Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya, Udta Punjab) gives us a glimpse into the life of the dacoits living among the harshest elements. Cinematographer, Anuj Rakesh Dhawan, does a wonderful job displaying the arid and dangerous landscape of Chambal Valley, which in Sonchiriya, is littered with bullets and dead bodies. The background score is haunting and adds to the drama unfolding on the screen. The set pieces involve a plethora of violence and bloodshed and the Mexican standoff scenes, in particular, reminds one of those old Wild West films. The dacoits are shown wearing worn out Khakis and shoes capturing an authentic look and feel for the era and the people.
The acting is where this film lets down a bit despite having many stalwarts. Ashutosh Rana’s vengeance-driven Gujjar cop strikes the perfect balance between menacing and hurt, but can anyone expect anything less from him at this time? Manoj Bajpayee has a pretty short role, and he does justice to it. This is not a typical hero role for Sushant Singh Rajput and for that brave choice he must be commended, but, his character never really touches the soul as you would expect. He does show some maturity as an actor, and that augurs well for his future. Most of Bhumi Pednekar’s dialogue in the movie is cliched, but, it is she who conveys the central message of the film. Ranvir Shorey does a good job but is underutilized.
All in all, Sonchiriya is very powerful in patches but seems to drag through other times even though it has a runtime of only 143 minutes. Watch it for the wonderful cinematography, authenticity and Chaubey’s grip at directing a western.