A car, a barren piece of land, a battered woman trying to survive. 2015’s patriarchy-slasher NH10 frequently comes to mind while watching Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Apurva. But, while the Anushka Sharma starrer, via the tropes of a survival thriller, explored the misogynistic root and rot of society, Apurva mostly remains a genre exercise. It competently shows the ugliness of all-men, but offers no new insight into the makings of a male-dominated world. It’s a scary, thrilling ride that plays with your senses but doesn’t question your sensibilities.
We open in the arid expanse of Chambal. A cawing crow suggests it’s going to be a ruthless western. Jugnu (Rajpal Yadav), Sukkha (Abhishek Banerjee), Balli (Sumit Gulati) and Chhota (Aditya Gupta) are modern-day dacoits devoid of any moral code. In an initial scene, while they rob a car carrying wedding jewellery, we witness the limitlessness of their sadism. In-between jokes, they shoot a limping man in the back, they also trample another under their car. Sukkha teaches the teen Chhota the ‘art’ of kicking a person. Chhota even clicks a selfie with a dead body. It’s not just the money. They loot to kill.
Cast: Tara Sutaria, Abhishek Banerjee, Rajpal Yadav, Sumit Gulati, Dhairya Karwa
Directed by: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Road rage and fragile egos lead the quartet to robbing a passenger bus, where they spot the dainty Apurva (Tara Sutaria), who is on her way to pay a surprise visit to her fiancée Siddharth (Dhairya Karwa). She is abducted and an endless nightmare ensues. Apurva is harassed, tormented, leered at and the scenes are difficult to stomach. But at times you feel if you are being fed more than necessary. Nothing is left to subtlety and the tormentors, although ably led by Rajpal Yadav and Abhishek Banerjee, start feeling one-note. Devils just doing the devils’ business.
Once Apurva escapes, the film clings on to the tropes of a survival thriller. The action is restrained in a small piece of land, with maze-like brick walls of an abandoned village. Again, I remembered NH10, its geographical variety and how inventive it was in using its location. Apurva tries to make the most of its surroundings but the makers can’t save the story from getting stifled. The danger which you felt for the titular character when she was kidnapped, evaporates once she is on the run. You know she will make it. Bad news for a thriller.
It’s interesting to see Tara Sutaria ripped off of all glam. She begins well. A flashback scene of her learning to drive provides a base for her character. It all comes around towards the climax when she hits a character with an SUV. But Tara seems like a damsel-in-distress, desperate to display her acting chops. She is sincere but still is somehow off the mark. Abhishek Banerjee and Rajpal Yadav are the pillars of this thriller. Banerjee plays the lovelorn Sukkha with arresting conviction. In a sweet touch, he is seen humming ‘Bekhayali’ from Kabir Singh while taking a piss. This little gesture sums up his character. Yadav as the gang-leader Jugnu plays the character with a calming, yet menacing restraint. But there is only so much forward performances can take a film. No matter the double engine, a tale needs narrative fuel. Apurva runs out, too fast, too soon.