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Hard to turn away from Ritika Singh’s hellacious ride – Beyond Bollywood

Writer-director Harsh Warrdhan’s crime thriller drives home its concerns of women safety in India.

Rating: 3 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Though we’re no fan of comedian Vir Das but his ‘one India, two India’ theory is hard to miss. We’re all proud of one India that is among the fastest growing economies, but then there are two or many Indias where women safety is still a serious issue.

Staying in Mumbai’s sky rises, congested by lanes, slums, we don’t come across that many tales of sexual crimes against women and children. Not that Mumbai is ranked as the safest city in India. The state of Maharashtra, too, has its underbelly. Maybe, the tragic 2012 Delhi gang rape shook the conscience of the country. In some way, it aggravated fears of women safety in the Northern belt.

City shaming is no solution, but the ever-rising crimes against women and children make you wonder why are we seeing such things in the society? A solution is never possible without understanding the mindsets of the culprits, the milieu under which a man doesn’t hesitate in outraging the modesty of a woman. Often the scourge of this evil lies in the deep-rooted patriarchy. Huh! We’ve used such text before while reviewing similar crime thrillers. We derive no pleasure in condemning India’s under belly. However, till this evil doesn’t stop, civilians must continue to raise their concern over women and child safety.

Cinema is a great tool to create awareness. Unheralded writer-director Harsh Warrdhan rightly chooses to expose the ideology that is responsible for the sexual crimes in a particular belt. Though, he doesn’t spell out the region as such, but Warrdhan’s InCar [2023] travels from Delhi to Haryana.

The unique title justifies its story.  Three goons first abduct an old man in seeking a free ride to their destination in his car. Shortly, the lusty men kidnap a woman in broad daylight from a bus stop outside a college in Israna, Haryana. The fear of the devil grips not just the innocent Sakshi [Ritika Singh], but with every mile, the viewer, too, is feeling edgy on his/her seat thinking of the debauchery, horror that is likely to follow.

Harsh Warrdhan’s film drives on the back of this fear, where Ritika Singh pulls the viewer along this hellacious ride. We’ve seen countless films on crimes against women, but it’s this drive on the road to hell that separates Warrdhan’s film from the rest. The director must be complimented for sticking to his roots, where the three antagonists Mama ji [Sunil Soni], and his nephews Richie [Manish Jhanjholia] and Yash [Sandeep Goyat] communicate in chaste Haryanvi. 

This dangerous drive sheds light into the toxic masculinity, ethnocentrism of region. Mind you, it’s only some evil individuals, groups, who bring shame to the entire region. Far, too, often have fringe groups, or sexist political minds beaten the regional pride trumpet to silence just voices.  A false sense of regional pride can never give justice to victims of sexual abuse but it always aggravates their pain. InCar’s plotline makes it a difficult task for the writer-director to pen an engaging screenplay. Normally, even 106 minutes would feel a stretch, but the largely taut screenplay and the intense performances ensure consistent engagement.

The horror in Incar serves as a metaphor for Vir Das’ One India, two India’ theory.  Actually, it begins before Mama ji and his nephews abduct Brijesh [Gyan Prakash]. The opening scene has Richie being all ears to the local astrologer-pandit. Though Yash warns him that the sage is merely taking him for a ride, Richie is adamant that the former lends him Rs500 to pay to ward off the fault in his stars. How often do we find lecherous/evil men having a religious side to them?  

Then there is the stunning moment when Yash abducts Sakshi in broad day light. The fellow commuters act as if nothing really has happened. Worse, a female cop was few meters away, but she didn’t hear the momentary screech of the girl. It’s dangerous to even normalize such things, but the cold reaction of the by-standers leaves the viewer shell shocked.

Forward to the drive, here’s a hapless lady, surrounded by three vultures in a car. Then the driver Brijesh simply watches in silence. Well, poor Brijesh has a gun to his side, but that silence unmasks the escapism, the Ostrich mentality of the large population who chooses ignorance at the mere sight of such evil.  One India, two India! There we go again.

It’s hard to take your eyes off Ritika Singh for even a moment. The Saala Khadoos [2016] actor compels you to feel the fear of Sakshi. Her tears leave you numb.  As a viewer, you feel the same helplessness. The softies will simply shut their eyes. Maybe, the voyeuristic viewer would envisage the impending debauchery. (All credit to the Crime Patrols, the Savdhan Indias). Despite the threat, Ritika compels the viewer to stay with her throughout this hellacious ride.

First-time actor Manish Jhanjholia succeeds in bringing out the lech in Richie. Some of his below the belt conversation might be disturbing for a few, but it reflects the mindset of the man. The birthday boy Richie demands his mama and cousin to gift him a sex slave, one that he intends to abuse for a week.  His lusty eyes though can’t mask his impotence.  It’s not abnormal for such men to vent their frustration by physically harming their victims.

Yash [Sandeep Goyat] begins much like Richie, but as the film progresses, his vulnerability comes to the fore. In fact, both Yash and Richie strike you like novices. Maybe, they are in the adolescence years of their criminal journey. It’s bizarre, though, why the lusty men keep driving. The quiet fields on either side could have served as the devil’s den. These events all transpire in the bright hours. But the longer they are in the car, the lesser the possibility of them completing their evil designs.

The hardcore criminal here is Mama ji, who truly instils the fear of the devil.  Though evil, the trio of Sunil Soni, Manish Jhanjholia, Sandeep Goyat chip in with intense acts.

Ritika Singh wasn’t alone in this dangerous ride. Seasoned actor Gyan Prakash, too, had to face the music. Watching the disturbing scenes, this reviewer chides,” Uncle (Brijesh), you are at the wheel. Why don’t you ram the car?” Though deadly, that felt like the best thing for Brijesh to do to have a remote chance of survival.

The final action sequence is not that gripping. It could have been choreographed better. What’s gripping though is the fine cinematography by Mithun Gangopadhyay, and the immersive background score of Mathias Duplessy.  The aerial shots of the trees, and the car being driven around empty streets serve well to bring out the tension, but maybe, Warrdhan shows one shot too many.

Humble films have their challenges. It’s been a near four-year-wait for Warrdhan to put his InCar on the screens. The grim subject perhaps makes it a niche film, but how long will the escapist audience press the reverse gear each time a Sakshi is kidnapped?

Produced by Inbox Pictures and distributed by Reliance Entertainment, InCar [2023] is set to be released in theatres on 3 March.

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