The Leadership Review Team

Movie in Focus – Ugly

The Leadership Review Team


Ugly is arguably the darkest movie by Anurag Kashyap, who has a penchant for painting the darkest of human emotions in his movies. It is a movie so dark; it may be used to justify the impending apocalypse by a fuming God. Unlike Gangs of Wasseypur, the most popular Kashyap movie, there is no graphic detailing of violence in Ugly, and in it, we do not find close-up shots of blood gushing out of the bullet wounds. However, there exists an assorted bouquet of vernacular cuss words; which unlike all other Kashyap movies, seems force-fitted. Even without these cuss words, Ugly deserved an A (adults only) certificate, for it portrays human beings at their worst in such a nonchalant calculative way, that it may forever render a young mind distrustful of his loved ones. That is perhaps why, Anurag Kashyap personally requested the parents of child actor Anshikaa Shrivastava – whose role was pivotal to the script of the movie – to not allow her to see the film because of its dark theme.

The name of the movie is definitely derived from the ugliness of all its characters and the larger social infrastructure that brings out this ugliness. The ugliness in the failure of this social infrastructure is inherent in the lack of empathy and with which Inspector Jadhav approaches the complaint of a missing girl and ends up wasting 14 valuable minutes in a power trip before swinging in to action only after realising that the kidnapped girl is the step-daughter of his police-chief. It is appalling to see the police’s inability to keep up with  technological advances of the day, which is evident in police chief being forced to barter with a jailed underworld don to understand the concept of internet based calling cards. It makes a lot of sense in a country where two teenage girls from Palghar were jailed for a Facebook post while Islamic State’s (IS) alleged online recruiter operated from Bangalore undetected, till the Channel 4’s sting operation. The ugliness of failed hopes from the social infrastructure is beautifully captured by Kashyap in the drunken travails of a struggling actor’s life in one room (that includes kitchen and bathroom) MHADA apartment, probably somewhere in Poonam Nagar. The despair overflows in the enervated police quarters which might fare worse than the jail when it comes to space per person, construction quality, or even sanitation. Its disgust seeps through the open nullahs we find everywhere in the movie, just like in the real world. The disappointment in the opportunities that the capitalistic and democratic set up promises is seen in the extent to which almost every self-employed character in the movie is cash starved.

Moving on to the ugly characters, let us first take a moment and look at the ugliness as depicted in the Sergio Leone’s masterpiece ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. Throughout this movie, the ugly – Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez – remains on the cusp of doing the wrong thing, and moving on to becoming the Bad; only to be stopped by the good, Blondie. Because he is always  stopped before he can cross the line, Tuco’s character in the film never becomes cringe worthy; in fact it is more funny than evil. Quite like the likeable character of the coyote in the cartoon series Road Runner. The logic probably is, because they were stopped before doing the wrong thing (although they tried hard) they are alright. Kashyap’s Ugly does not make any such pretention. All its characters are ugly and they all go on to turn bad. The only good in the movie is a little girl Kali, whose disappearance triggers this transformation.

The father of this little girl, Rahul Varshney, is a perennially struggling actor who fails to provide for his family which costs him his marriage, custody of his daughter, and the respect of the society. He is the sort of a guy who rapes his wife to bear a child because an astrologer told him that the child will bring him luck. Her mother Shalini is a woman damaged beyond repair; her awful first marriage is over and the second one is no less bad; she virtually remains sub-merged in alcohol and is suicidal. The stepfather, Shoumik, is a chauvinistic senior police official whose past sense of inferiority is weighing down his present success. His self-esteem took a beating when he was humiliated by Rahul in their college days when he professed his love for Shalini. His marrying Shalini, making her feel unloved, and listening to her taped phone conversations in front of his sub-ordinates in an attempt to punish her is chilling. Then there are other characters that include, Chaitanya a friend of Rahul’s who feels guilty about stabbing his best friend in the back only to do it again; an item-girl Rakhi who is Shalini’s best friend and is in a relationship with Rahul. And she can’t wait to get out of her marriage with a husband she believes ‘needs medicines to make love’; and Shalini’s brother Siddhant, who is disowned by his family, and is actively exploring criminal options to get rich quick. All of them reek of ugliness.

Once the news of Kali’s disappearance and a possible kidnapping breaks, all the characters see it as an opportunity to attain what they always sought. Siddhant, Chaitanya, and Rakhi all pose as kidnappers to get the ransom money, which they all desperately need. Shalini sees the ransom call as an opportunity to skim some money from it and escape her marriage with Shoumik. Shoumik tries to portray Rahul as a suspect, get his hands on him and complete his revenge. Rahul tries to run away from the sorry affairs of his life with the entire ransom money. With these shenanigans hindering its path, an already lacklustre investigation unsurprisingly fails to save Kali. Kali’s dead body gets recovered from the same market area from where she had first disappeared. She was drugged and bound but could have been saved. If only…

Derailment of an individual commences with the weakening of his conscience; it is completed with the death of his innocence. All the characters had an already bludgeoned conscience. After the death of Kali, each one of them ended up worse than they started. Each of them derailed, owing to a distinct character flaw. Though, failure of Shalini, Shoumik, and Rahul stands out.

  • The mile between ‘knowing the right thing to do’ and ‘doing the right thing’ has led even Dhritarashtra astray. Shalini lacked the courage to change the status quo and stalled even when it was apparent that something needs to be done. She was an able-bodied educated woman of 21st century and yet she could never muster the courage to stop the misery she was put through by two men in her life. She needed a Shoumik to rescue her from the marriage with Rahul. By herself, even at the height of her desperation, she could not risk the security of marriage with Shoumik, until it was too late.
  • People try to repress the hurtful memories only to remain entangled in them. Shoumik’s tough cop facade was a defence mechanism to heal his wounded self-esteem. His competence and his leadership were continuously negated by the frustrations he felt in his personal life. This frustration with people, his volatility and his narcissistic rage were all rooted in one single incidence of his humiliation. He could have achieved much more than he did if only he could conquer the demons of his past.
  •  Attention that charisma yields is addictive and when it becomes short in supply, even legends like Rajesh Khanna derail. Rahul was charming, confident, and completely dedicated to become a famous movie star. To some extent, his failure was the handiwork of his circumstances.To a great extent his uncontrolled urge to become a movie star led to his
    ultimate failure.

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