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Worth a watch despite the InCar nostalgia – Beyond Bollywood

Tara Sutaria is no longer a mere damsel in distress. Abhishek Banerjee is usually good at being bad, but it is funnyman Rajpal Yadav who intimidates in a rare negative role.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️✨️ (2.5 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

The barren fields are intercepted by a smooth, shiny tar road. A Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t mind going for a speedy ride in his Mercedes (Formula One car). Chambal certainly has come long way from the dark days of dacoity.  We thought that the dacoits, who proudly called themselves baaghis (rebels), were wiped out in Central, Central-Northern India, but writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat has come across some torrid tales. His film Apurva [2023] is said to be based on true events.

Unfortunately, it is no Lewis Hamilton but a bunch of dreaded dacoits, murderers who are speeding in their stolen vehicle on the Chambal Road. Jugnu [Rajpal Yadav], the head of the gang is livid at not being able to overtake a tourist bus. It’s not the bus driver’s fault as the road is not wide enough for one to overtake. Jugnu takes a hard right, on to the field, races ahead only to park his car in front of the tourist bus. A tourist bus! How could the dacoits let it pass without looting? Sukkha [Abhishek Banerjee], the pervert dacoit kidnaps Apurva [Tara Sutaria]. The young girl is engaged and due to be married soon. She is heading to Agra to surprise her fiancé Siddharth [Dhairya Karwa] on his birthday. Phew, how life can take a turn for the worse in a moment. One girl against four lusty, cold murderers. The odds are heavily stacked against Apurva.

It often surprises us as to how desi filmmakers, producers promote such content as survival thriller. The very mention of the word survival is a give away in itself. Nowadays, many films carry the ‘inspired by’ or ‘based on true events’ text in their disclaimer. Maybe in time, Bhat can enlighten us on the exact nature of the true events. Viewers though are immediately gripped by a sense of déjà vu. Anushka Sharma’s NH10 [2015] springs to mind, but the more appropriate example is writer-filmmaker Harsh Warrdhan’s unheralded noir InCar [2023]. InCar was based in Haryana. Apurva is set in Madhya Pradesh. Both draw our attention to women safety.

Being produced by a marquee production house [Star Studios], and having established names is likely to make Apurva [2023] more marketable/searchable. Is it a better film? That would be an unfair comparison as Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s film has its own flavour.

Abhishek Banerjee (L) and Rajpal Yadav in Apurva (2023)

From their clothes to tone, Bhat’s dacoit quartet is a little different from the more rustic bandits of the yore. It’s not their sinister designs, but the characterization that is likely to divide opinions. Sumit Gulati can get overexcited in such pervy roles. Aaditya Gupta is an unknown quantity and hardly makes much impression here. Abhishek Banerjee gave us the chills as Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok [2020]. Hathoda Tyagi barely spoke. Sukkha is a blabbermouth. Banerjee though is equally good in his evil act. The one that really surprised us is Rajpal Yadav. Often cast in nauseous funnyman roles, we don’t recollect even a smile from Yadav. Of the quartet, it is Jugnu [Yadav] who truly has this fear factor around him. He has the look of a cold murderer when he bludgeons his victims.  Though far from perfect, it’s refreshing to see Yadav make an impression in a rare negative role.

Tara Sutaria in Apurva (2023)

Where does that leave our protagonist? Apurva, it roughly translates to one of a kind. If not one-of-a-kind role, Sutaria finally makes an impression as an actor. In a young career, Sutaria has played the damsel in distress before. Apurva is meek to begin with. Here’s a lady from Gwalior who was quick in quitting driving class after not liking the way in which her trainer, and fellow learners mocked her driving skills. She is your harmless middles class girl. But adversity can trigger the fire in a simple woman too. The labyrinth-like ruined structures of Chambal perhaps provided hiding spaces for Apurva, Sutaria, though, would have wished for better action sequences. The Apurva-Siddharth relationship would please the feminists. Doing away from tradition, it is the girl and her family who came to see the suitable boy.  It is the girl who intends to surprise her fiancé on his birthday. The groom-to-be is even willing to shift to Delhi so that his fiancée can pursue her academic dreams. The past events serve as a relief from the disturbing events of the present.

After largely disappointing in her young career, Sutaria finally shows some promise. The measured performance should pacify her critics, but more importantly, it is good for self-confidence. Off the camera, Sutaria has never been short of it. She displays the requisite intensity for such a role.

Apurva [2023] has its visual appeal, with some deft cinematography. Though disturbing, the scene of Apurva crying for help banging the rear windshield in a moving car is very gripping. Similarly, Anshuman Mahaley produces some fine aerial shots of the ruins in the deserted fields.

The Nikhil Nagesh Bhat film is not as gruesome as NH10. Nor is it rooted like InCar. The InCar nostalgia notwithstanding, Apurva has adequate elements to build engagement for the target audience. If one hasn’t watched similar content, then Apurva is bound to offer a unique experience.

Apurva [2023] is set to stream on Disney + Hotstar from 15 November.

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