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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com 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. 

 

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Lakadbaggha, Review: Hyena in a dog’s world

Lakadbaggha, Review: Hyena in a dog’s world

Considering the amount of footage devoted to dogs, Lakadbaggha (Hyena) is more a dog film than a hyena flick. The first and only hyena you see is late in the second half of the film. But, to be fair, that hyena is in sharp focus as the film moves towards its climax. Besides a thought-provoking insight into the world of dogs, the film gives us some raw, bare handed, martial arts, in the krav maga style of combat, which originated in Israel. It is a strange blend, krav maga and dogs. Again, you do not associate dog love with vigilantism, but that is exactly what the film offers. If you are a dog lover, your day is made. If you are a martial arts fan, you will get more than your money’s worth. And of you are both, you are bound to say “Wow”. On the other hand, if you are an average film-goer, or a critic, you may have some issues with the narrative and the film will hold lesser appeal. But it still deserves to be seen.

Strange phenomena are occurring in the city of Kolkata. The police believe that a gang of hoodies is attacking and brutally wounding random groups of men. We soon learn that the ‘gang’ is just one individual, named Arjun Bakshi, who single-handedly teaches a lesson to those that hurt dogs. He refuses to call them ‘stray’, preferring to use the word ‘indie’ instead. He has his own pet dog, called Colonel, and there is a kennel owned by his employer, where he feeds and helps raise dogs. His employer runs a book-shop cum library cum photo-copying cum courier and perhaps some more businesses, from the same premises. Arjun is his courier boy. Besides running courier errands, Arjun teaches martial arts to young children.

Since the local police are unable to crack the case after a couple of incidents, the Crime Branch sends its officer Akshara D’Sousa to work on it. Akshara takes over from an Inspector named Mukherjee and sets about analysing the ‘criminal’s movements and possible locations. One day, Arjun arrives at the police station with a letter for Akshara. The letter contains divorce papers, which she signs and asks Arjun to return to the sender, an advocate. Arjun refuses at first but agrees, when persuaded. He collects the charge, issues a receipt, but has no change to return to Akshara. Akshara asks him to keep it, but Arjun insists that he will return the small change. One of his owners’ dogs, Shonku, suddenly disappears. Arjun wanted him to participate in a dog show, but Shonku is nowhere to be found. As a substitute, Arjun decides to enter Colonel for the dog show. When he goes to the venue to enroll Colonel, he is told by the woman at the registration counter that Colonel is an Indian breed and that only foreign breeds are allowed in the show. Arjun is bitterly disappointed. Co-incidentally, Akshara arrives at the venue and learns about Arjun’s plight. She decides to intervene and calls the chief organiser of the show, Aryan, to talk to Arjun. Aryan, she tells Arjun, is her brother. Unknown to both, he is also the kingpin of animal smuggling and drug trafficking.

TV veteran Alok Sharma gets his first break as writer in a feature film, after having written the short Bulletproof Anand, in which Lakadbaggha’s producer-protagonist Anshuman Jha acted alongside Jaaved Jaaferi. Alok directed it too. I remember seeing it and being impressed by it, though it was very short and had a couple of loopholes. Lakadbaggha is a misnomer of a title, as stated above, though it sounds both exotic and earthy at the same time. Alok gives us a flashback, in which we see young Arjun and his father, Tarun. Tarun teaches him to stand-up for what is right, even if it means leaving his school. He also teaches him martial arts. Three scenes, and no more of senior Mr. Bakshi. And what about Mrs. Bakshi? Absent. Arjun seems to be teaching martial arts either free or for a pittance, and a courier’s job is not exactly high profile. Yet he maintains a decent life-style. From his conversations, you would think that he is very well educated, so why work as a courier? Though we see him conducting a martial arts class in passing, we find that he has no friends or relatives at all. At least he is never shown talking to anybody, except his boss and dogs. Though the official language of the film is Hindi, there is a generous amount of English and a sprinkling of Bengali too. Akshara’s brother being Aryan is a tour de force of writing, a real surprise. Aryan and Akshara are very unlikely names for somebody whose surname is D’Sousa. And why name the hyena client Gandhi? The name has venerable connotations for a billion people, both Indian and foreign.

We see Akshara signing divorce papers, but no mention of who her husband is/was. Not germane to the film? Would help characterise Akshara. The letter she receives is addressed to Akshara D’Sousa, that being her maiden name. Strange, considering she has not gone ahead with the divorce yet. Moreover, why would her husband send the papers to the police station? Shouldn’t they have been sent to her residence? Her desire to send the signed papers back to the advocate, on the spot, with the same courier is odd indeed. Being a Crime Branch detective, she should have studied the papers and then signed/sent them. Her brother runs an elaborate crime network and she, a Crime branch detective, has no clue about it. Exactly what does he do as a civilian front for his daily routine (he must have one) is never shown. For a change, it was nice to see the hero being beaten at least twice, in martial arts combat. There are issues I have with the climax, but there shall be no spoilers. Sharma excels in the dinner scene, when Aryan and Arjun exchange jibes. Aryan is twisted-social while Arjun is philosophical-social. Aryan is a gourmet chef, with a tableful of meat and cheese delicacies, and Arjun is a vegan.

Victor Mukherjee (Love Lust and Confusion, Situationship, Babbar Ka Tabbar) describes himself thus: Collector of random memories/ Could've been a cricketer/ Would've been a singer / Should've been a chef. Now we know where the dishes came from. Also, there is a scene where Aryan is shown chopping meat with a chopper, and the actor told the media last week that he did not know how to chop meat. Victor showed him how to do it. Mukherjee fails to integrate Akshara into the film and even the scene where she takes Arjun along to her gym (looked more like her home, with nobody else around, though she used a locker) and spars with him seems contrived. Arjun is devastated when Colonel is not allowed to participate in the Dog Show, which must be on that very day, or, at the most, the next day, since he is shown to be at the venue. Aryan invites Arjun home for dinner that very day, and Arjun unwillingly accepts the invitation, because he believes it will help Colonel get an entry. That night, however, he has dinner with Akshara, in a restaurant. Ultimately, he does go to Aryan’s house for dinner, but it is not clear how many days later. By then, the Dog Show would have been over. So what was the point?

Aryan keeps talking to one Gandhi in Dubai, who is the man that ordered the hyena, smuggled out from Corbett Park and transported to Kolkata, apparently for its meat. He is shown talking to Gandhi at least thrice, assuaging him that there will be no delay in the shipment, and asking him for a license to operate at Kolkata port. Although Gandhi always cuts his conversations short, he never tries to call Gandhi himself. All of Aryan’s other conversations are with his henchmen. Is that all the crime boss does? Mukherjee has a tough time balancing the film between dogs, the vigilante and his scraps, the villain and his dark deeds, the hyena and the Arjun-Akshara love story. Of these, the Arjun-Akshara love story comes out as the least convincing. She takes most of the initiatives. Is it on the rebound from her divorce? But one would expect a Crime Branch detective to show more maturity. Characters of the movie are by and large refreshingly different from stereo-types, but not the two bosses: Arjun’s boss Dutta and Akshara’s boss, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Crime Branch. Dutta is still passable, while the ACP is given stock dialogue with expectedly stentorian delivery.

As Arjun, Anshuman Jha (whose First Ray Films produced the movie) does not hog the limelight. His baby-face goes well with the dog-loving character, though not with the vigilante avatar. That is fine, and the surprise works well, for it seems initially incredible that a small man with a baby face can break the bones of four or more goons. Being a real-life dog lover helps no end in giving his persona a realistic look. It is as a courier boy that the character fails to jell, especially after you hear him debating intellectually with Aryan. And one must compliment him on the krav maga combats that he executes, with finesse. You tend to believe him when he said to the media that all these fights were realistic, and that he trained in krav maga for the film. Ridhi Dogra (TV actress, seen in The Married Woman, Diya Aur Bati Hum, Woh Apna Sa, Khatron Ke Khiladi 6, Pitchers-Season 2) makes a sensational debut on the big screen. As Akshara, she is ever so sexy and ever so confident. A real pity that her role is almost redundant, and were it to be excised, the film would hardly feel the impact. Ridhi deserves better. Are casting agencies reading this?

Paresh Pahuja is the suited, suave, smart, young, dashing Aryan. Actor, singer, songwriter in real life; hustler, vicious, and animal trade kingpin in Lakadbaggha. A two-dimensional character, he is the pretender and the criminal. But there is no third dimension, except when his killing machine Vik comes up to him while he is shaving (he sports a beard and a moustache, and shaves only his lower neck), takes the razor, cuts his skin and licks the blood. That’s a bloody deadly scene. Paresh is likely to get offers to play baddies as a result of this role, for he has done his martial arts very well too. Alok Sharma gives him long pieces of dialogue in English, which he renders spot on. With not one word to speak, and a frail looking body, Eksha Kerung strikes terror as Vik. Playing Arjun’s father, Tarun Bakshi, Milind Soman does his scenes with ease. Saptrisee Ghosh as Inspector Mukherjee, Denzil Smith as the ACP and Kharaj Mukherjee as Dutta provide routine support. If you look carefully, you might spot one Alok Sharma, acting as a reporter.

Kudos to Jean Marc-Selva, the director of photography and Simon Fransquet, who has scored the music. Editing is crucial in films which have martial arts combats, but the name of the editor is not available. Nevertheless, he or she has done a splendid job.

If you overlook the shortcomings, you might really enjoy this slick production much more. Watch out for the hyena, the animal that comes in focus as the narrative moves away from the dog’s world. You will never fool around with a hyena after seeing Lakadbaggha.

Rating: ** ½

Trailer: https://youtu.be/hep-UIKFg_Y

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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 FilmFestivals.com 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

India



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