There’s been ample talk of crude language and graphic violence on streaming platforms lately. As a Quentin Tarantino and Lars Von Trier acolyte, I firmly turn a deaf ear to the moral police, but where even I draw the line is something like Apurva, Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s blood-soaked Chambal Western. Also read: Tara Sutaria plays titular character in hostage drama, Rajpal Yadav seen in a menacing avatar. Watch Apurva trailer
This is a film where shooting a bus driver’s assistant isn’t enough. The dacoit must clobber the poor guy’s head against a milestone almost entirely through the time the rest of his gang rob the passengers and abduct a young woman (dragging her through the aisle and singeing her with cigarette ends for good measure). This is a film, where the indulgent screenplay engineers a diversion to have one of the victims of a highway robbery try running away, after which you run the poor wretch over with the shiny new SUV he happened to be driving moments ago.
A positively cherubic Tara Sutaria plays the titular twenty-something on a bus journey to meet her banker fiancé (Dhairya Karwa) in another city on his birthday. In a flashback, we’re told that she has tried learning driving and is feisty because she can tell off the instructor — so you don’t ask useless questions later, when she puts both of these skills to good use in the film. In another flashback, we’re told how Apurva and her boyfriend met and fell in love (as unbelievable as it sounds, it was when he came to see her for an arranged marriage proposal).
The proceedings, charged with unsubtle misogyny that is seemingly a setup for a cathartic final payoff, unceremoniously reach a libidinous crescendo, where Apurva’s body becomes discomfitingly subject to the male gaze. I mean, far be it from a group of lecherous criminals to feast upon the average nubile young woman, but suddenly, the up-and-coming dacoity outfit’s priorities go from robbing a truck carrying polyester worth ₹35 lakh to taking turns to violate their latest victim. And where does it all start? When Apurva’s righteous fiancé threatens the alpha brigand of the group over the phone. And when it’s between two men, of course the woman must pay.
Apurva never scares you
The second half is a slapdash attempt to salvage the mess, with Apurva crying and sighing, tripping and falling over, laying traps and luring sex-hungry dacoits so she can hack away at their man parts, and ultimately overcoming all of them, over the course of a night. The ease with which she faints, and then escapes the scene with another walk-in victim is beyond amazing. The walk-in victim, an astrologer, whose character might be the weakest-written character of 2023, becomes part of the plot just so Apurva can use his phone later. Ingenious, I say.
Despite the unappetising lingering over the lead character’s body and the gratuitous violence punctuating the goings-on, Apurva never scares you or makes your skin crawl. You will only find yourself grimacing occasionally and flinching from the needlessness of it all. And when the lead character gets into the act, pummeling one of her captors with a steel bucket and registering her first loss of innocence, you hardly feel her anger and agony. Her relationship with her boyfriend, recounted via flimsy flashbacks, too, is bereft of the pangs of separation. Unfortunately, Dhairya Karwa’s character, too, is no more consequential than the one he played in Gehraiyaan (2022).
Abhishek Banerjee is underutilised
The film is frustrating on many levels, one of which is Abhishek Banerjee. Having seen the actor nail a cold-blooded psychopath in Paatal Lok in between a string of eccentric sidekick roles, his sincere submission to this character occasionally shines from under the veneer of a cosmetic villain. But unlike Babu, the unhinged hitchhiking stalker played by Manoj Bajpayee in Road (2002), there’s nary a trace of vulnerability in his composition. What I do know for certain about this character is that he relishes whipping his willy out and taking a piss to his heart’s content.
Rajpal Yadav plays the poker faced ceremonial head of the gang, whose unclear authority and jurisdiction are constantly undermined by the aforementioned younger alpha male of the pack. Regardless of the material, Rajpal Yadav plays this character with an old-world honesty, the occasional scowl on his scruffy face suggesting the complex nexus of emotions that follow killing your boss, who in his case is presumably a dreaded regional brigand. His sudden outbursts and indifferent participation in the gang’s activities convey a deeply insecure man, who, despite being but an unscrupulous criminal, has reached a middle-age crisis (and possibly erectile dysfunction).
Tara does the best she can as damsel-in-distress
This is arguably Tara Sutaria’s first fire and brimstone role, and in the framework of this film, she brings almost the right combination of damsel-in-distress energy to it. What she lacks in terms of expressions, she makes up for with her agitated sobbing. One cannot really blame her, though, for this is a film from at least a couple of decades ago, and the chronology of misogynistic misadventure and feminist wrath are far too disjointed and ill-balanced here for her to even attempt a layered performance.
Having seen the trailer and the poster with Apurva’s face framed by a sickle, it’s not hard to predict how this tale unfolds. Only, what transpires is far more simplistic than whatever your imaginative mind, fed on a steady diet of gory OTT thrillers, will dream up. The film ends with Apurva acing the film’s signature power move: crushing the adversary’s head to a pulp.
Apurva is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.