Pankh?s protagonist is a National Award-winning child star who grows up into a psychologically damaged young man because his ambitious mother forced him to masquerade as a girl to get roles.
Jerry, played by Maradona Rebello, was once the superstar Kusum. Between the ages of four and eight, he did 19 films as a girl. But the frock and lipstick permanently skewed his sense of identity and sexuality. The adult Jerry has a tenuous connection with reality.
From Maculay Caulkin to our local Slumdog Millionaire stars, we have umpteen examples of how showbiz scars children.
Director Sudipto Chattopadhyaya has reams of material to mine. He tells the story not so much as a linear narrative but as an evocation of Jerry?s fractured and fragile psyche.
So Pankh is a heightened fantasy in which nothing is quite what it seems. The film opens with Jerry having a conversation with his pet turtles. He dreams of someday running away with them and leading a normal life. The turtles aren?t Jerry?s only soul-mates. He also has long, imaginary conversations with a leading heroine, Nandini, played by Bipasha Basu in such outlandish costumes and eye-make up that at one point, I laughed out loud.
Jerry?s mother desperately wants him to be a superstar again. She coaxes him into an audition but it becomes a disaster in a way she cannot imagine.
There are some moments of startling beauty in Pankh ? Sudipto obviously has visual flair - but mostly the film feels like a bad acid trip in which you are trapped with a slew of unsavory characters.
Producer Sanjay Gupta described Pankh as a trip through the underbelly of the Hindi film industry but there is little here that we haven?t seen before.
Lilette Dubey plays the brittle mother who couldn?t make it as an actress herself and is now living vicariously through her son.
There are of course legions of lecherous men ? from a casting director who promises to only indulge in heavy petting to a writer spouting chaste Hindi who seems gay but keeps referring to a young girl as a ripe Alphanso. There are scenes of masturbation, child molestation and lots of swearing.
Pankh is frankly ugly and beyond a point, absolutely tedious. Sanjay and Sudipto want to be edgy and dark but the writing isn?t sophisticated enough to support their ambitions.
The screenplay drags endlessly and the dialogue is pretentious. So characters drop lines like: "Cinema is all Illusions and Kya tumhen pancake ki dheemi kushboo sapno mein nahin aati". What does that mean? I have no clue.
My favourite howler was a scene in which a solemn-looking director, played by Ronit Roy, understands that Jerry is mentally unstable. Stealing a line from King Lear, he declares: "I feel he is more sinned against than sinning".
Pankh is pure delirium.