Planet Bollywood
Lal Salaam
Producer: Sanjiv Karambelkaar
Director: Gaganvihari Boratte
Starring: Nandita Das, Sharad Kapoor, Sayaji Shinde, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, Makrande Deshpande
Music: Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Gulzar, Narendra Sharma
Genre: Art-Film
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Approximate Running Time: 2.5 hrs
Film Released on: 03 May 2002
Reviewed by: Rakesh Budhu  - Rating: 9.0 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.11 / 10 (rated by 410 viewers)
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Lal Salaam deserves a salaam (salute) itself for its gripping, realistic and at times dark look in the lives of its awe-inspiring characters who invigorate the going-ons of the lives of tribal groups. Not a film for the weak hearted and certainly not for those looking for syrupy sweet romances or the chumminess in family dramas, Lal Salaam is a kin to taking a camera to the home of the Adivasis, and walking through the forest recording the events of the tribal members. Minus the songs, which are in themselves not truly what one expected from Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Gulzar, and this film would be as real as it gets. Fear not, however, because what we get isn’t dispiriting at all.

Amounting more to the qualities of films like Satya, or Shool, Lal Salaam takes a break from the historic figure dramas (Asoka), takes a break from the romances (too many to name), and the underworld dramas (Company, Satya) and documents the Naxalite movement. Whereas others try to fight to be themselves amongst opposing forces, The Naxalite movement is the Adivasis strive for freedom amongst those that just won’t let them be. Those being, the police, corruption, and more so, the normal people. Being a tedious task, the film ensembles rape, attacks, corruption and uses irony in its title, “Lal Salaam” (Red Salute), in depicting the endless bloodshed that the Adivasis face.

Kanna (Sharad Kapoor) and Rupi (Nandita Das) form the preliminary portions of the film to lead us into the drama that will enfold. A romantic couple, the two are the most strong and intelligent living in the tribe. A studious and well fortuned tribe member, Kanna is on his way to earning his degree and travels to the city of Nagpur to do so, leaving behind his brother Ghishu (Vijay Raaz). Unfortunately, his brother, the only tie to his family, becomes involved in the ongoing Lal Salaam movement with the Naxalites. Drastically different, Ghishu’s ignorance and bad attitude leads him straight to the wrong tracks much to his brother’s dismay.

Ghishu is tortured and beaten by the police of his village. Torn and distraught he is found by the Naxalites, healed and out of insecurity joins their movement.

The villager commanders learn of Ghishu’s transformation into Naxalite and with the help of Inspector Deshpande (Sayaji Shinde) go crazy trying to find him. Unfortunately, the inspector and his help go about doing this in a negative way, taunting and torturing other villagers. The trouble increases when Inspector Deshpande encounters Rupi, the closest friend of Ghishu. Rupi is raped and in turn, hurt, runs away from the village.

Upon his return, Kanna is now alone, confused and unsure of what step to take. Believing that his two loved ones, Ghishu and Rupi have been killed Kanna goes crazy in search for the next turn in life. But Rupi has not died; she too has joined the Naxalite movement, and has no hopes of informing Kanna of her turnabouts.

The Naxalites continue to gain more and more popularity amongst the villagers who come to understand that they need to be free from those that wrongly dish out injustice to their village. With more furor the Naxalite movement enhances to a full-blown battle between good and bad. But what is good and what is bad is left to the viewer to decide.

One truly feels like they are in the film through Ghishu’s attack, Rupi’s rape and the proceeding Naxalite revolt. Not because of shoddy camerawork, but natural storytelling and excellent acting. If there were a word to describe the film it would be real. Unlike similar films, which have tackled, based on real stories, Lal Salaam handles it more realistically attempting to depict with validity the occurrences in the Naxalites movement. But the film takes no sides, and gives justification for each of the actions leaving the viewer with little room for sympathy for any of the characters. Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s music does stand out as a hindrance, but gels with the film lyrically. Lata Mangeshkar’s “Mitwa” which is featured on Rupi and Kanna in their preliminary romance sequences is entertaining.

Director Gaganvihari Borate is excellent with his character definitions of Inspector Deshpande, Rupi, Kanna and Ghishu. Weaving the occurrences without playing too much emotion but on the realistic thought sequences that the characters would take is done excellently and without wasting any time. He puts together a script and film, which is appealing without entering the realms of faux entertainment. He gives the right dimensions to every single character and gives the film a few notable sequences to justify the occurrences.

The police’s corruption is divulged upon rather than having the viewer assume reasons for their corruptness. Kanna’s educational goals aren’t there just to make the script work, but are played upon importantly in the film. Ghishu and Rupi’s attacks are also much more real than astonishing, again, leaving the viewer in more of an understanding rather than heart wrenched.

Much like Shool and Satya, Lal Salaam moves at a pace, which leaves little room for anything else. This is not time pass entertainment, rather, it is an excellent drama for those that enjoy realistic cinema. To enhance this, the cinematography and dialogues (some of the best we’ve heard this year from this type of cinema) are perfect.

With such a perfect weaving of everything else, the actors themselves had little to do and still end up being the best part of the film. For an actor wasted in roles in Josh, Yeh Kaisi Mohabbat, Sharad Kapoor delivers an excellent subtle performance of the man in the middle. His emotives and facial expressions only enhance this more. He’s got talent, this guy.

Vijay Raaz steals a few scenes as well. The actor delivers an excellent account of an ignorant man who does what he feels is right. With a distinct performance in Monsoon Wedding and the recent Company, Raaz continues to show the audience the power of a supporting actor.

Sayaji Shinde continues after Avgat and Daman, to depict negativity with the accurate amount of ability. A talented actor, the actor plays the villain with little effort and still performs excellently.

As always, Nandita Das, proves that real actresses don’t need films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to prove their worth. The actress is excellent in every frame mouthing off dialogues with such naturalness. Another rape sequence and the actress acts as if we’ve never seen her in one at all. The true stand out, Nandita Das proves with this film that she will stick with non-mainstream product and show off her talent. (Who needs hits anyways?!)

Rajpal Yadav is not given enough footage as the aforementioned actors, but still pleases the viewer. At the very least, one applauds him for not sticking with the stupid comedy roles that most directors give him. In support, Makrande Deshpande as the ranger is decent as well. Again, the actors are the most inviting aspects of this ensemble adding the perfect characteristic to the film’s story. A definite pat on the back for producer and director Gaganvihari Borate for bringing together this intelligent star cast for this intelligent film. It’s almost as if they actually sat down and tested the actors for the roles rather than relying on hype, box office power or word of mouth.

This red salute contains a dash of red in almost each of its frames and using irony to depict the occurrences of the Naxalites in what is already a thought provoking film. Lal Salaam is almost a look through reality using a lens tinted red and either way turns out to be an excellent piece of cinema.

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