By Subhash K. Jha
Movie: “Noblemen”; Cast: Kunal Kapoor, Ali Haji, M.K Raina; Director: Vandana Kataria; Rating: ****(4 stars)
Seeing a film without knowing much about its subject matter and the way the plot is likely to go, can sometimes put the audience in an awfully uncomfortable situation. The discomfort of the familiar is what we get in this week’s two releases. “Article 15” takes us into a deep dive to witness the horrors of the caste system.
“Noblemen” takes us into another kind of grim and horrific reality. While campus bullying is an easily identifiable scourge of our social system, just how deep it runs is put forth by debutante director Vandana Kataria in a film that spares us none of the trauma and horror of a gentle, soft gay 15-year-old grappling with a school of homophobic bullies.
The performances, especially of the youngsters is delightfully unaffected. Ali Haji is seen in a splendid emotional swirl. Mohammad Ali Mir as the bully-in-chief brings a swelling swagger into his mean character. Hardik Thakkar’s cries of terror as the overweight target of ragging will freeze your heart.
This is not an easy film to sit through. To begin with, it lures us into an illusory sense of innocuousness. You know, the soporific hill station boarding school with some romance thrown in a la “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar”. A bunch of blithe students prepare to perform William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant Of Venice” for Foundation Day. And Shay (Ali Haji) clearly has a crush on his drama teacher (played with sensitivity and equipoise by Kunal Kapoor).
In fact it is more than a crush. And as Shay tries to get a grip on his sexuality the film lets loose a horrific torrent of trauma on the boy. I must express my highest admiration for young Ali Haji, the talented child actor who played Aamir Khan and Kajol’s adorable son in “Fanaa”. He goes through the most unspeakable torture. And wait, there is no redemption. The character gets darker and darker, finally falling into an abyss of despair and hopelessness.
Contrary to its sunny sheen, “Noblemen” is a grim and shocking reminder of the depravity and intolerance that often underlines the well-aligned smooth operation of elitist educational institutions. Director Vandana Kataria and her co-writers Sonia Bahl and Sunil Drego dig deep into the darkest recesses of teen-angst and emerge with a tale as brutal and gentle as the play that the characters set out to perform at the outset.
The stage performance of “The Merchant Of Venice” never happens. Life takes over art.