B.A Pass to begin with is not porn, no matter what some wanted to have me believe. Its official trailer in youtube calls it an “erotic human drama”, perhaps intentionally. But it’s much more than that. It is a story of everyday life in a rapidly changing socio-economical landscape of this country, portrayed with touching compassion and bitter honesty.
Mukesh (played by Shadab Kamal), a guy probably still in his late teen/ early 20s, comes to Delhi after both his parents die leaving him and his two sisters fending for themselves. He finds himself tagged along to a relative’s family where lack of respect and neglect factor in in his daily experience of being the man Friday of the household. As happens to most vulnerable young adults, Mukesh finds himself in a situation disproportionately beyond his control. He falls in the clutches of Sarika (played by Shilpa Shukla of Chak De India fame) – friend of his auntie. She doesn’t only initiates him into his first intimate experience but also into a dark, sordid world of flesh trade where Mukesh is only a reluctant participant. Mukesh dislikes the work but keeps at it in order to bring back his sisters put in an orphanage outside Delhi, by the relatives. It is said that after enough repetition even the abnormal achieves a semblance of normalcy. So after much repetition the first experience of an almost forced experience starts to look, alright, if not to the viewer but Mukesh himself. And at one point though still painfully confused he seems to be gaining a lightness about himself that shows in his demenour.. In a symbolic triumph, he wins a game of chess, his passion, he usually loses to his opponent – an undertaker in a Christian cemetery.
Structure and fine points
The movie is a distinct division before and after the interval. Mukesh is a confirmed underdog with apparently no escape route in sight. But at least in the first part he seems to be able to cope with the challenges of living in the rough terrains of middle class Delhi society with its utterly phony social standards. The viewer is almost tricked into believing for a moment, there probably is hope after all, in this obviously hopeless, abusive, exploitative circumstance.
In the 2nd half, the apparent light heartedness goes for a toss. At moments the viewer might feel claustrophobic, for the dense play of nightmarish, yet utterly credible course of incidents.
Ajay Bahl (Director) takes the uncomplicated first person narrative route. Mukesh is the narrator till the1st act, after which narration is no longer needed. The predators and preys have been defined; the dark tragedy seamlessly advances to its dénouement. And the viewer feels tense and scared for the predicament of the helpless protagonist. The movie stays faithful to reality, yet manages to provide enough banter. Dialogues are a real plus: minimalist, effortless yet full of acerbic, often tongue-in-cheek banter. In one such moment during the first encounter with Sarika a flummoxed Mukesh says “koi dekh lega to kya soche ga” in a hopeless attempt to be rid of her. “kaun dekh lega”, asks Sarika in her ever sarcastic, teasing way. “Biji” Mukesh gulps nervously referring to the old grandmom of the household thought to be a retard. Bahl makes Mukesh’ painful innocence sound funny, in one lighthearted yet dark twist!
Music done by Alokananda Dasgupta acts as a running commentary. The irony of the first liaison scene is accentuated by the grumbling, wailing music that speaks volumes about the sordid act of intimacy. Cinematography done by Bahl himself successfully combines the pictorial and gritty.
What this movie successfully does is bind complex issues like betrayal, erosion of human and family values, ruthless socio-economic changes, in a non preachy manner. “Saxy” scenes act as the tool to uncover all this to its naked, brutal basics. It also touches upon the theme of gender roles. How identification of a man becomes fluid in a ruthless economic structure, where the resource-less might be reduced to peddling their manhood by becoming gay flesh workers even though they are heterosexual by nature. In fact the idea of manhood is at stake here. Common notion of sexual abuse being an experience of the fair gender gets upturned. “Mard ko bhi dard hota hai”, says a character in a key moment.
Delhi Noir the anthology that features Mohan Sikka’s short story “Railway Auntie” the movie is based upon, talks about the real Delhi without any pretension. B.A pass successfully achieves that no-frills quality. However, the reality here is so dark that it doesn’t give you any crumb of hope. There is no catharsis. Your worst fears come true.
Simply put, this is a wonderfully done independent movie.
Kamal plays the wide-eyed new kid on the block role with élan. It doesn’t even look like he is acting. Shukla plays the complexity of a crafty, brazen at times suavely loathsome, and yet somehow not totally evil housewife in an awesome manner.
Small bumps (?)
Well, there are scenes on a dark balcony flanked with glow signs that eerily remind of Dev D. On another scene the camera lingers for full 2-3 minutes (if not, it sure seemed that L-O-N-G) on one hennaed foot of a client while she was intimate with Mukesh. While frame after frame merges at the foot, the objective was lost on me, at least. What did it intend to say? That she is a newly married bride? If yes, that was quite evident after the first couple shots of the foot. In an otherwise fantastic movie these are easily forgettable slips, if at all. However one might wonder is Mr. Bahl India’s answer to Tarantino – known for depicting his foot fetish in films?