Rating: *** ½
Debutant director Pranay Meshram’s Akelli is quite a pleasant surprise. Eschewing the crudity of The Kerala Story, it tells a gripping tale of a young Indian woman in pursuit of employment trapped in the terror of Talibanism in Syria.
Unlike The Kerala Story, there is no sinister agenda here to demonize any community. Sure, the villains are Muslim. But Islamophobia is resolutely averted as the writer sets out to tease out a engrossing tale from the survival genre of cinema.Beyond a point you don’t care about the religious identity perpetrators. You just want the protagonist to flee the danger.
The plot, though quite beyond plausibility in parts, never lets the characters down. The pace is relentless, as Jyoti a girl from a humble bourgeois background finds herself in Syria working in a garment factory.Straightaway, a sense of doom is stitched into the storytelling when Jyoti lands in Syria and is received by kindly charming Indian(Nishant Dahiya) who is to play a pivotal part in the crisis that awaits Jyoti.
While the peripheral characters, played with arresting authenticity by actors from the Gulf region , add a bedrock of authenticity to the storytelling, it is Nushrratt Bharuccha who shines in the central role of a woman who suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of the fence. The role is not just emotionally draining but physically exhausting.Nushrratt is equal to the task. It is time the myopic Hindi film industry took her talents more seriously.
While some of the plotting is beyond believability Nushrratt and the energetic editing(by Sumeet Kotian) keep us invested for a little more than two hours.
The airport climax reminded me of Ben Affleck’s Argo, albeit a budget version . All through I never felt Akelli to be a small film. There is a saying in Hindi: Soch badi honi chahiye. This film illustrates the thought amply. It is designed to thrill and is cut with a surgeon’s precision.
Unlike The Kerala Story, there is no extra meat, no flab, no excessive violence in Akelli. Yet the storytelling chills you to the bones from the moment Jyoti lands in Syria. In spite of the façade of normalcy you know she is in trouble. Deep trouble.
Akelli is not a great work of art. It doesn’t aspire to be. Its ambitions are self limiting. The director Pranay Meshram wants his audience to be involved in the story of a plucky smalltown girl’s flight from the worst nightmare of any migrant’s life. Civil violence is largely uncivil for those caught in it. The last time you saw a film about an Indian trapped in civil strife in a foreign land was Airlift. And that was all about subtle machismo.
Akelli exudes the musk of pernicious masculinity in a nation that has no respect for women. It is a harrowing experience for the protagonist and a thriller for us. Funny how one woman’s poison is another man’s meat.