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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Gali Guleiyan (In the Shadows), Review: Shadow boxing in labyrinthe thin

Gali Guleiyan (In the Shadows), Review: Shadow boxing in labyrinthe thin

A year after being shown at Busan and the Mumbai International Film Festival, Gali Guleiyan emerges from the shadows and arrives at cinema halls in India. A psycho-supernatural drama, it falters on both levels and offers only confusion as the intelligible narrative. Performances are of a high order, and so are the music score and cinematography, but how one wishes they were put to better use.

In the walled city of Old Delhi, a reclusive TV repair shopkeeper named Quddus spends his days obsessively watching people through hidden closed circuit cameras. He has changed his name to Quddus, but his earlier name is not revealed. When he overhears a boy being beaten in another home, he begins to frantically search for the child. He can hear the wailing, but, strangely, his cameras capture neither image nor sound.

The young boy, Idrees, fondly called Idu, is the older son of a butcher, Liaqat, who is having an affair with one of his female clients called Farida, and is prone to beating both son and mother (Saira) on the slightest provocation. Idu has a friend called Ginny and the two indulge in voyeurism whenever they can get any spare time. This story runs parallel to the strange exploits of Quddus.

Quddus is a loner, often keeping his shop shut for days on end. His only contact with the real world is a friend named Ganeshi, who brings him groceries and find him some work, and a brother called Shaukat, who pays him a visit after ages, only to claim a precious necklace that was left behind when the mother and son left Quddus and moved away to a remote part of the city. As he gets lost in the labyrinthine alleys of the city and recesses of his mind, his grasp on reality falters, until he eventually stumbles across a shocking truth.

Shot like a thriller, with hardly any thrills, the film does evoke thoughts of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, where Gene Hackman played a professional ‘eavesdropper’ who is helpless when confronted with a murder plot unearthed during an assignment that will proceed as planned, whether he likes it or not. But the similarity is only marginal. Gali Guleiyan is the name of the lane where Quddus lives, and there comes a time when he cannot find his way back after a drinking spree.

"There are no innocent bystanders … what are they doing there in the first place?" is the opening quote. That, of course, comes from the beat generation icon William S. Burroughs (1914-97), who was a drug addict for many years and a confirmed bi-sexual. Together with Allen Ginsberg (his homosexual partner) and Jack Kerouac, he constituted the triumvirate of the Beat Movement. You will find that quote in Exterminator!, a collection of short stories. Quddus strives to be the concerned bystander, and that part of the film works well. The Liaqat family track is also well enacted. It is in the whole that the parts lose their meaning.

Eleven years after he made his first short, Dipesh Jain gets to make his debut feature. A recipient of Director's Guild of America Student Award, he chooses an abstract theme for the occasion, leaving the viewer to connect the dots and then decide whether it is a dream, a ghost story, a rebirth tale or a madman’s trip. Well, nobody is suggesting that debutants should make safe or linear narrative films, but trying a Kumar Shahani or Mani Kaul in the first film, unless it is painstakingly done, would amount to misplaced bravado. Such films can acquire cult status in times to come, and get classified as the research and development projects of cinema, if they garner enough aficionados. This one looks dicey to me, though.

Manoj Bajpayee (Shool, LOC Kargil, Special 26, Aligarh) as Quddoos performs better than in most of his recent films. His face and eyes are a plethora of emotions and expressions.

Neeraj Kabi (Ship of Theseus, Talvar, Once Again) as Liaqat reveals a rather brutish side to his character, quite in contrast with his role in Once Again. Ashwath Bhatt has a small role as Shaukat. All three do injustice to Urdu, the language they should have been speaking fluently, given the Muslims of old Delhi milieu.

Ranvir Shorey too gets to enact a role that differs substantially from what he is doing in Halkaa, his other release this week, and does well as a do-gooder. Shahana Goswami (Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., Midnight’s Children, Rock On) as Saira is a delight to watch. Cast as Idu, Om Singh makes an impressive debut, while Arbaaz Khan as Ginny is watchable too. Three other persons contribute to the merits of the film, and none of them are actors.

If In the Shadows is bearable, it is largely due to the Music by Dana Niu, Cinematography and light-shade play by Kai Miedendorp and Film Editing by Chris Witt. Miedendorp grew up in Germany and the Czech Republic. He received his MFA in Cinematography at the acclaimed German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB) and completed exchange programs at FAMU in Prague and at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he focused on documentary filmmaking and film/video. He also holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree. Kai lives with his wife in Brooklyn, NY.

Playing with umbra and penumbra is part of film-making technique, as is shadow play, but what we have here is shadow boxing, an exercise that is largely futile and wears thin.

Rating: **        



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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