It's been a while since Priyadarshan made us sit up and watch in rapt attention. Visually and in terms of the content, Rangrezz is his best work in years.
In what must rank as one of the most gripping elopement sequences written in the history of celluloid courtship, three friends, who look like they've walked out of Kai Po Che! when Chetan Bhagat was not looking, get together to abduct a powerful minister's daughter from a crowded temple to unite her with their lovelorn friend.
The entire sequence lasts for a good 10 minutes. It is shot with the razor-sharp alacrity of a cleverly-staged game-show entitled "How To Whisk The Chick Away Under Her Father's Nose". And yet there is an air of unrehearsed casualness in the way the three friends, played with throw-away conviction by Jackky Bhagnani, Vijay Verma and Amitosh Nagpal, flee, fall and scamper away from danger, bruised, battered, bleeding and bellowing like wounded animals, with the eloping couple in the backseat of a screeching car.
Full marks to the action director for cutting to the chase without negotiating a single faltering step in the way the drama unfolds.
Indeed, the real hero of this surprisingly watchable film on the violent end of that much-abused emotion called love, is cinematographer Santosh Sivan. Santosh's unerring eye for a detailed lush and vivid emotional and physical landscape makes this Priyadarshan's most visually rich film since Gardish in 1993.
This is an elemental film, not the least apologetic about serving up a spicy dish. The Bihar-Uttar Pradesh dialectic dialogues come across self-consciously the way they are mouthed by the two actors - Pankaj Tripathi and Lushin Dubey, playing warring politican-parents of lovers-on-the-run.
This is a film with very strong sensory perceptions. The landscape is ruthless, rugged and riveting. The emotions are primeval. Caveman tactics, with characters caught out of their cushy hideouts kicking dragging and screaming, are the prevalent mode of vindication. It's a tough world. And obviously a very tough film to make.
This is no state for the squeamish. Though Rangrezz is partly a coarse bromance and partly a mocking romance, its brutal landscape scoffs at softer emotions. The tyranny of the troubled territory is testimony to a history of family violence. The three guys, who form the core of the compelling content seem to convey more sincerity in their feelings for one another than the two man-woman relationships in the plot.
Jackky, giving a subdued silently effective performance, roughs up the girl next door (Priya Anand, Sridevi's pert niece in English Vinglish) and shies away from any physical contact.
As for the other couple, whose elopement forms the central plot, their love evaporates faster than the film's pacy editing can cope with.
But not before one of the protagonists loses a leg and the other his hearing ability.
All this for love that never was! The peppery racy proceedings could have been damned funny were it not so sad. The plot packs in plenty of punch. Priyadarshan wastes no time in building up a tempo in the spiralling storytelling. The characters evolve effortlessly from the core of plot. These are people who plunge into a crisis before thinking of the repercussions.
The rage and passion of betrayal are astutely captured in the narration. Priyadarshan takes the original Tamil film Naadodigal and twists it into a coiled engrossing saga of how lust can often be a convenient pretext for love.
The film poses some disturbing questions on the lack of genuine commitment in today's relationships. What we love is just hormones and chemical at work? In an urgent rush of energy and adrenaline, Rangrezz poses this question.
Priyadarshan spins a mean story told with a flair for violent flare-ups that are shot with gumption and gusto. It's a film with a number of advantages, the performances topping the list.
While Amitosh Nagpal, Vijay Verma and the redoubtable Rajpal Yadav as the protagonist's buddies in arms are first-rate, Jackky Bhagnani as the boy next door, who doesn't think twice before plunging viciously into a friend's love problem, gives a quietly self-assured performance. His character Rishi hardly sings and dances. But you know he can. You can sense the rhythm simmering under the surface of discontent.
This has to be the most gripping elopement drama in the history of Indian cinema with a very strong message on that overrated emotion called love. Cupid's arrow has never struck a more deadly blow.
Go for it. The rebellious boys' club of Rangrezz is every bit as meritorious as its counterpart in Kai Po Che!.