By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Blank”: Director: Behzad Khambata; Cast: Sunny Deol, Karan Kapadia, Ishita Dutt, Karanvir Sharma and Jameel Khan; Rating: ****
In a film where the devil lies (and never tells the truth) in the details, it is significant that debutant Karan Kapadia, who plays the title role of a suicide bomber whose mind has apparently gone blank after an accident, is not mentioned in the opening credit titles.
His name comes on only at the end when all the heat and smoke has settled down on what is clearly one of the most original and gripping films on the wages of terrorism we have seen in living memory.
From the moment “Blank” opens, when we see a confused, bearded, shell-shocked young man being readied for an encounter killing, we are hooked. If he is a dreaded terrorist attached to a bomb as intricate as the politics of radicalism practised in our country, why does he look like a victim?
(Hint: Ishrat Jahan).
On the surface, “Blank” is a gloriously gripping cat-and-mouse tale of a suicide bomber and an anti-terror policeman (Sunny Deol, in supreme control). The narrative has the long-legged dexterity of Neeraj Pandey’s “A Wednesday” and the fast-paced real-time action scenes that Akshay Kumar is seen performing in “Baby” or “Airlift”, films which minimise the fantasy element in global politics without reducing the ‘thriller’ element inherent in the plot.
“Blank” does the same. But with much more frugality and economy. Its 45-minute storytelling has no room or tolerance for humbug. The narrative zips across a few days in the life of angry, wounded Mumbai without using the camera to eulogize the city’s multi-cultural atmosphere.
Curiously, “Blank”, though a film about the mob mentality, chooses to telescope the life of the characters into a manageable range of vision. I think this deliberate ploy of tempering terrorism comes from the director’s determination to steer his story through its politics into a space where we see individuals liberated off their political and cultural baggage.
First-time director Behzad Khambata has no patience for flab. There is not an ounce of superfluousness in the storytelling.
“Blank” is that rare kind of thriller where the city never sleeps. The restless edge provided to the plot is directly traceable to the ceaseless action that underlines Mumbai’s tormented topography. R. Dee’s cinematography prowls the city without losing sight of the plot on hand.
The film is designed like an impossibly swift roller-coaster ride. Events unfold in a stream of fast-flowing incidents. There is always room for the unexpected in this expertly crafted anti-terror actioner.
While Sunny Deol holds the plot together with a face and attitude that suggest experience without the accompanying cynicism, but with plenty of world-weary anger, the supporting cast — specially Karanvir Sharma (playing Deol’s anti-terror team mate) and Jameel Khan (as the jihadi terrorist) — are terrific.
As for debutant Karan Kapadia, he has chosen to make things almost impossibly difficult for himself in his first film. Playing the suicide bomber who goes through several dark shades of change in the narration, Kapadia gives an explosive account of a reluctant fundamentalist’s craggy journey from damnation to tentative salvation.
The way Kapadia uses his voice to convey anxiety and anger is remarkable. There is one particular sequence in a police van where Deol’s Dewan is in an emotionally charged telephonic conversation with his truant son.
Overhearing him talk, Kapadia’s Hanif tells Dewan: “Is that your son? Is he in trouble? It will be okay. You will make it okay.”
That’s the suicide bomber telling his potential assailant that there is another son sitting right in front of him awaiting justice. Moments like these humanise the suicide bomber without romanticising him.
This is a craggy breakneck film which does have its improbable, at times tacky, interludes. One action sequence at the end aboard a train is particularly embarrassing.
The background score tends to get carried away with its chore of accentuating the action. But the film’s director demonstrates an admirable control over the chaotic universe that his distraught characters inhabit.
“Blank” must be seen for its tightly clustered almost suffocating narrative pattern. We are in it till the exacerbated end for better or worse.