Planet Bollywood
Producer: Nitin Patil
Director: Hansal Mehta
Starring: Kay Kay, Prashant Narayanan, Jaya Seal, Sri Vallabh Vyas, Naved Aslam
Music: Viju Sha
Lyrics: Amitabh Verma
Genre: Action
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Film Released on: 09 August 2002
Reviewed by: Vijay Ramanan  - Rating: 8.5 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.1 / 10 (rated by 413 viewers)
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It remains a tragedy of the Hindi film industry that productions lacking famous stars or gargantuan budgets often find few takers. Inductively speaking, “Chhal” will meet the same fate. It seems hardly fair, for this is a thoroughly entertaining film, intelligently written, and stylishly executed.

The cohesive screenplay by Suparn Verma is a strongly focused “Droh Kaal” meets “Donnie Brasco” exhibition. A dutiful police officer Karan Menon (K.K) is selected to infiltrate an underworld gang to become a khabri (messenger/spy). Inspector Menon a.k.a Karan Bhai in the underworld, discovers a labyrinth of murder, mayhem, friendship, love, deceit, and duty. The script succeeds not because of the plot, but rather the characterization of the protagonist, Karan Menon. The plot twists (and there are quite a few) are often determined by Karan’s internal conflicts, where he tries to juggle between his duty as a police officer, his love for Padmini (Jaya Seal), and his allegiance to her gangster brother, Girish (Prashant Narayanan), as a gangster and as a friend. The true state of Menon’s mind is revealed when he asks his superiors, “If I am to become a part of the underworld, what am I supposed to do if a police officer shoots at me?” – a question that lingers on all the way to the end of the story.

Director Hansal Mehta treats Verma’s screenplay with full respect by keeping his storytelling focused on a single track. Unlike many directors who tend to throw in a romantic angle and deviate from the central theme, Mehta ensures that Karan and Padmini’s relationship is pivotal to the film’s progression. Mehta keeps the film’s pacing intact by placing Viju Sha’s songs in the background, rather than breaking away for sequences. The director also deserves high praise for his cynical look at crime. It is very easy for a filmmaker to end up glorifying gangsters, and it happens in the best of films, be it “Satya”, “Company,”,   “Goodfellas” or  “The Godfather.” However, with “Chhal,” Hansal Mehta successfully resists this temptation.

K.K and Prashant Narayanan seem to be very much at ease with the roles given to them. K.K. manages to reveal far more about his character with minimal dialogue than Narayanan does with an overdose of lines. Yet, the relative newcomers exude loads of confidence, hinting at a lot of talent to be tapped. Narayanan as Girish bhai, is energetic and explosive, but also impatient and irate. K.K. underplays the restrained Karan Menon. Sure there are certain portions where the performances are inconsistent and perhaps even monotonous – nothing that a little more experience can’t fix. Jaya Seal as Padmini sleep-walks through a role with minimal footage. Naved Aslam as Inspector Dave is impressive, personifying duty, tactics, and persuasive obsession. Sri Vallabh Vyas as the deceitful underworld don, Shastri excels in a role, the kind of which he has never been seen in before.

Editor Apurva Asrani who had co-edited “Satya” redeems himself after some unbelievably shoddy work in “Om Jai Jagadish.” He bends his avid console till it breaks. The murders and flashbacks are cut stunningly, along with a bagful of scenes where parallel editing is skillfully used. Cinematographer Neelabh Kaul makes a very impressive debut with his monochromatic lighting schemes and extensive use of Dutch angles. The camerawork and the editing, put together with skillful production and sound design, embellished with Viju Sha’s riveting background score, mount the content of “Chhal” to a high level of style.

Hansal Mehta’s previous film, “Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar,” starring Manoj Bajpai and Tabu bombed at the box-office despite being, in my opinion at least, a very intelligent and entertaining film. “Chhal” has far more “masala” making it commercially viable. It is indeed a pity that this film seems to be drowning because of the hype of an unoriginal, star-studded piece of junk called “Mujhse Dosti Karoge!” which happened to release on the same day. Here’s hoping (perhaps wishful thinking) that common sense prevails, and this low-budget film is given a chance.

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