Don't forget to go and support Arshad by seeing Hum Tum aur Ghost if you are able to! Sadly, Studio 18 has not given him the support the film deserves and declined to do an Internet release or release the film in North America, which means I will not be able to legally watch until the DVD comes out.
So, while it's always Arshad Warsi Week in my heart (like I would ever stop fangirling), this is the last day of the dedicated week> Please consider this both a look at Sehar and my final (for this week) tribute to the wonderful and talented Arshad Warsi - the man who inspired me to write possibly the longest sentence I've ever written. (See if you can pick it out of the review!)
If you have Arshad Warsi Week related posts, send me the links and I'll put up a final master post as an index to everything!
And here we go to Sehar...
Due to my voracious reading habit and tendency to Bring My Own Subtext (BYOS) I often let whatever book I'm reading at the moment color my impressions of whatever film it is that I happen to be watching. Serendipity brought together "Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil" by John Ghazvinian with Sehar.
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
The riddle the Mad Hatter asks Alice has no answer and neither does the riddle shown in Kabeer Kaushik's Sehar.
While Uttar Pradesh cannot be accused of having Dutch disease, a concept I was introduced to in "Untapped," I saw some surprising similarities between the politics depicted in Sehar and the disconnect between the political class and the general public in countries like Nigeria as described by Mr. Ghazvinian. When the habit of treating government as a source of handouts and paper-pushing jobs becomes entrenched in society, it can take generations to change. If you remove one corrupt politician, there is another Goodluck Jonathan waiting to take his or her place. And in Sehar, a similar question is posed early on to our intrepid hero SSP Ajay Kumar. He replies with something to the effect of: "If one gang boss falls, another will be right behind him to take his place. This is how the world works."
All of this is a long-winded way of telling you that SSP Ajay Kumar (Arshad Warsi) is kind of a noble masochist. He knows in the long run that he can change nothing and yet he is determined to try anyway. He is the original Nicholas Angel (from Hot Fuzz) - to such an extent that I think Simon Pegg and Kabeer Kaushik must have at least a few of the same classic cop movies. He jogs, enjoys treating women with respect, and has had fourteen transfers in eight years because he refuses to compromise. "It's the principle of the thing," may as well be his middle name.
We're entering Prakash Jha territory (and will be revisiting this terrain in Rajneeti - a word I heard a lot in Sehar - later this year.)
Because it's best to let these things play out on their own, and I don't think I could give a concise version anyways, I won't be giving away any plot spoilers. Needless to say, SSP Ajay Kumar navigates his way through the maze of Lucknow politics and the UP underworld with all the grace of, well, Nicholas Angel.
I'll be honest: Sehar isn't the type of film I usually watch and I wouldn't have watched it once if not for the promise of Arshad Warsi and I saved it for last to re-watch for Arshad Warsi Week because it is a tough slog all the way through. Sehar takes concentration. It's not a film you can watch with one eye on the TV and the other scrolling through one of Veraciously's hilarious Bolly-celeb Tweet posts. But, if you can gather the mental powers to sit through and give a film your undivided attention, Sehar yields some worthy treasures.
At the top of the list today is, of course, Arshad Warsi. In all the interviews I've read this week to aid in my championing of Hum Tum aur Ghost, a couple of things have stood out. Arshad has said numerous times that he does not find acting difficult. At the same time, he is slightly bitter that the world hasn't sat up to notice his prodigious talents.
Now, never having met the guy, I have no idea if the first is true or a piece of false modesty but having read all those interviews with him, I get the feeling that the words 'modest' and 'humble' do not come up much in conversation around the Warsi household and am inclined to believe what he says, which is why I understand the bitterness when tour-de-force performances like SSP Ajay Kumar are totally overlooked because when you see SSP Ajay Kumar, that cocky, sexy, "let me sing you a couple verses of Kanye's 'Amazing' and then impress you with my awesome jazz dancing skills" badass named Arshad Warsi is nowhere in sight and in his place is a small, careful man.
Take a look at this screencap of his first meeting with love interest (and economics professor) Anamika (Mahima Chaudhry). That seat, that stance are SSP Ajay Kumar - a reserved man would have sat in the far chair and confident one directly next to her. SSP Ajay Kumar is more complex than that and sits with a little distance between them but his legs spread wide. He looks away - shy but trying not to show weakness. Even if this comes easy... no, especially if this comes easy to Arshad, I am firmly on his side in not understanding why he doesn't get more recognition for his badass talent.
Consider me firmly on Team Hubris.
Sehar was Kabeer Kaushik's first film and judging from the direction style, he must have worked in theater before because much of the film deals in static, stagey scenes that reminded me a lot of 1940s films, which were heavily influenced by the theater. Then again, perhaps it was a deliberate style choice. Either way, it works well because when action does come, the frames flicker to life and burst the carefully composed set-ups, scattering gangsters, cops, and politicians around the screen like carrom-men.
And speaking of gangsters, I don't believe I've mentioned SSP Ajay Kumar's nemesis in all this: Gajraj Singh (Sushant Singh). Sushant seems to have taken all his cues on how to play a gangster from that Master of the Hastily Exchanged Briefcase named (simply) Don. And not the new "cool" Don, either. Sushant takes it old school with some vintage Amitabh Bachchan-style Don. He may not have the same swanky wardrobe but Gajraj is also creepily emotionless. Much like SSP Ajay Kumar, he is unwilling to play by the stated rules of the game: they both want to cut through the tangle of complicated lines of influence that layer Lucknow.
(I'll take the time now to give a shoutout to the guy in glasses who was Gajraj's right hand man. He was super-fly and drew my eye whenever he was onscreen! Can anybody identify Glasses-wallah for me?)
As is usual for cop dramas, the ladies who populate the film are limited to Mother and Future Wife. (Not the same person, just so we're clear.) The Ma is the usual Saintly Ma but Mahima Chaudhry's character Anamika is a welcome change from the devoted females one usually sees. She is an economics professor and definitely has a life outside of her relationship with SSP Ajay Kumar. All of this makes it kind of a shame that Mahima is not quite up to the acting standard of everyone else in the film. It makes you wonder how many talented female actors are out there who do not get jobs even in realistic films because they aren't as pretty as Mahima Chaudhry. I've said it once and I'll say it again: smiling beatifically and posing pretty are not the same thing as acting.
There isn't much more I can say without getting into either a political discussion or spoiling the plot so I will close Arshad Warsi Week with a promise to do another one as soon as everybody is ready!