Bollywood’s record with biographies (or attempted ones) is anything but impressive. The decent products have only come lately (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, Dirty Picture, Guru) aside one Shekhar Kapoor classic, Bandit Queen, two decades ago. In Phoolan Devi’s biopic, she has been shown, in equal measure, as victim, perpetrator and product of a society failing to respect and protect the unprivileged. In biopics, the audience looks out for the known, unknown and the link in between.
Unfortunately Prawaal Raman’s Main aur Charles fails miserably on all counts. Although he can argue that the ‘characters were purely coincidental’, but that would be insulting the audience’s intelligence.
Killer or Charmer?
Charles, in real life, was reportedly intelligent, brutual, charming, killer, knowledgable, fraudster, suave, smuggler, thought on his feet and an arms dealer. Wherever he went, he carried huge set of books – the root behind his unparalleled knowledge of history, law, world politics and philosophy. Unfortunately the movie focuses more on intelligence, charming, knowledgable and suave; than on the other alternates. His brutality is starkly missing, as if Charles instructed the makers accordingly!
In one scene the doctor who goes in to question Charles, comes out convinced that police have made a mistake and that the person in custody is historian and professor at Harvard. It underlines how quickly Charles could impress women with his customized French accent, limited speech and deep knowledge of world. As a viewer you return with belief that woman naturally get attracted to bad men (or ones with X factor) and stay thankful that Charles didn’t use his wit to hypnotize men and open terrorist organizations.
Style over substance
Unfortunately the movie cons the audience just as much as Charles did to his victims. I went in expecting to unravel a mysterious person who made the flat cap more famous than anyone else. But all we see are light effects, white women bodies shown under varied lights, his light seduction of hippies, his cigarette light and the emanating smoke. The excess timeline back and forth didn’t help and beyond a point, didn’t matter. Before the movie started, the theatre screened trailers of Bajirao Mastani, Tamasha and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo – all masala movies with style. At end of this movie I wished the director had taken that path instead of forcibly making it look like a Oscar wannabe. Or taken Hansal Mehta’s no frills, dark and honest ‘Shahid‘ route. Two months ago, I had seen a Code Red TV series episode on Charles and it left an impact worth going to theatre.
Lack of depth
Prawaal Raman’s career filmography has been primarily dealing with horror genre. A genre where makers can afford to do wonders with camera angles and light without the need to get into depth of characters. Unfortunately that staple horror formula would never have worked on a biopic like Main aur Charles. For the first 20 minutes, characters just keep coming and going off screen. The next 90 minutes they keep coming, staying for slightly longer duration, and then abruptly disappearing. Aside the famous jailbreak sequence and one shot conning a princess and a Nepali chef brigade, no part of the movie grabs your complete attention. There are no eeks moments, no jaw dropping ones nor ones which justify Charles be hanged – which am sure, would be closer to reality.
If anything holds the audience at times, it’s sporadic performances from the leads. Richa Chaddha, so glamorized and convinced by Charles’ innocence, is able to win most arguments with the police chief – played excellently by Adil Hussain. Of course as a viewer, you wonder why is police wasting time getting into petty arguments with a criminal law student over a not-so-petty criminal. Especially, when they have basic issues to counter – Mumbai police vs Bombay police vs Goa police issues, basic discipline in jail where Charles gets as royal a treatment in the 80s as the politicians get today and courts which resemble Mumbai’s overcrowded pigeon hole Mhada apartments. Randeep Hooda is decent but will look back at a missed opportunity wishing a Shriram Raghavan (Johnny Gaddaar) or Dibakar Banerjee (Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye) made this movie.
Rating: 2/5. Not worth your Diwali weekend.
Box Office prediction: The low three crore budget saves this movie as it has already collected double that amount, as I write, and likely to finish around nine crores mark. Enough to encourage the director to make a sequel (reports today suggest so) and possibly pass some royalty to Charles. Enough hints are dropped how media has made a celebrity out of Charles to the point, he began charging for interviews, biographies and documentaries while in jail. Some things never change. A certain Chhota Rajan is a celebrity on real television these days too.