Let’s call a spade a spade. Ranchi Diaries directed by Sattwik Mohanty cannot really be called a film, in its truest sense. It is producer Anupam Kher’s thank you note to PM Modi. Kher was appointed the chairman of Film and Television Institute of India on October 11. On October 13, Kher’s first film as a solo producer in 12 years released in theatres. To those who’d ask the most obvious question about how one can put together a feature length film in a couple of days, the question might as well be rhetorical. How indeed?

As suggested by the title, the non-existent plot of the film unfold in the capital city of Jharkhand inhabited by a bunch of good for nothing young people, a corrupt politician and his good for nothing thugs, and an honest upright cop surrounded by good for nothing constables. And the entire region is fenced with Jungles which are inhabited by none other than Maoist guerrillas who’ve been Anupam Kher’s villain of choice since last year’s Buddha in a Traffic Jam (Vivek Agnihotri, 2016). And these guerrillas do nothing but smoke pot and print fake currency notes. And following an hour of petty criminal activities strewn across the convoluted plot of the century, just when this huge amount of money, immorally gained, is about to make its way into the Nation’s economy, demonetisation happens and thereby Satyameva is once again Jayate.

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If there is one fundamental flaw in this disaster of a film, it has to be the screenplay which is almost like a manifesto of ‘things one should never do’ while writing for screen. Unless one is attempting a very Avantaor modernist exercise, one of the first things to decide is the focal point of the narrative; that is, the person who will be the ‘focalizer’ from whose point of view the story will be narrated. In any standard mainstream film, this role is that of the protagonist. But here we have a screenplay which seems completely unaware of such an idea. Right from the opening scene, the film keeps introducing characters, one after the other. The pattern is pretty much the same. The shot freezes on a face, the name appears on screen and a voice over introduces him or her giving a brief summary. The shot unfreezes and a scene is built and concluded which basically reaffirms everything narrated in the voice over. This continues for about eight characters clocking up to half an hour of the film’s 95 minutes runtime. By that time, the film’s direction has already become completely aimless and robbed of any sense of purpose, rambling across ill-conceived jokes and funny moments and scenes packed together in a disjointed script.

Another essential low-point for the film is the horrible acting. Just horrible. There’s no other word for it. With Gangs of Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap and his dream cast not only put the Bhojpuri accent on the Bollywood map, but also made it the marker of ‘cool’. Going by the logic of the film industry, it was bound to result in poor imitations. This one here is definitely the poorest. There is a host of newcomers who struggle with the accent all throughout and consequently the rest of their performances just fall apart. On the other hand, there are the seasoned ones like Jimmy Shergill, Satish Kaushik and producer Anupam Kher himself who all deliver the most bored performances of their respective careers. None of these actors, not even for a single moment, appear to be involved or motivated. They just sleepwalk through the random gathering of scenes.

The cinematography in the film has more or less the merit of a wedding video with everything in the frame made to look as glossy, glittering and shiny as possible. The sound designer probably realized that the script and actors have failed to maintain the ‘desi-cool’ flavour and so the entire audio track was pumped up full of techno beats every time someone says something! However, this film just might go down in history for having the worst heist sequence ever. In an attempt to imitate every crime caper film ever made, the sequence offers absolutely nothing but exasperation.Unimaginative writing and uninspired editing combine to build an elaborate sequence which is neither tense, nor funny, nor violent, nor absurd, nor suspenseful but tries to be everything and ends up being an audio-visual equivalent of Valium!

There is hardly any point discussing the blatant right-wing propaganda and the inherent classist, sexist tendencies. What is more important is the fact that the content and purpose of this film could have been well served by a tweet or a Facebook post. But this elaborate exercise in futility is guilty of a gravercrime. It tries to be a comedy without soul, wit and brevity.

Arup Ratan Samajdar
A student of cinema, completed his master's degree in film studies from Jadavpur University. A keen admirer of Classical Hollywood, the many New Waves and Japanese cinema, he has been writing film reviews, criticisms and essays and articles on various cultural topics.

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