Synopsis – Meet him once and your life will change forever. The movie revolves around Charles, an enigmatic con man and a vicious killer. A story based on the life of the infamous serial killer Charles Sobhraj.
My Take – This Friday saw the release of one of the most keenly awaited Bollywood film. I know seems like an odd choice, but films on serial killers are a rare thing in Bollywood. This film is a crime thriller based on the life of the real life of the infamous serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Nicknamed as “The Bikni Killer” and “The Serpant”, a French serial killer of Vietnamese and Indian origin, who preyed on Western tourists (committed at least 12 murders) throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s. After spending 21 years in prison he was released in 1997 and retired comfortably as a celebrity in Paris, charging large sums of money for interviews and 15 million dollars for the rights to his life story for a movie. After he went to Nepal he was arrested by Nepal officials for the murders of 2 of his victims. Hence was sentenced to life imprisonment. Based on the true story of criminal mastermind, the film gives a detailed description of his dark deeds told from the perspective of an Indian cop, Amod Kanth who looked into the case of serial killer. Prawaal Raman, the director of critical acclaim films like Darna Marna Hain and 404:Error Not Found, divulges into new territory of adapting a biography of a criminal using his knowledge of directing previous dark-thrillers and come up with an intelligent, brutal and alluring plot. He defines each characters to tell their own version of Charles in the first half and uses the second half to present the main protagonist. The movie does not waste anytime with unnecessary song-dance routine and sticks to the main point which is the highlight of the film. Hats off to Raman for making it crispy and watchable film. Charles has his own technique where he uses his charm and skill in attracting women. Once the girl fall for him, he uses her for his pleasure and then kill her through drug overdose.
The movie primarily focus on the attempt of the police in nabbing him for numerous such crimes. While most scenes are very well executed, on the flip side, the screenplay sometimes looses the track and is unable to weave things around. Raman attempts to piece together the seductive life of Charles Sobhraj. It’s an uphill task. And one that required reams of rigorous research, an actor who could define and own Sobhraj’s seductive charms and a certain detachment from Sobhraj’s scheming intellect to ensure we don’t get sucked into his deceptions. This detachment is achieved in the plot by making the Delhi cop Amod Kanth who nabbed Sobhraj, the hero of the show. Not that Sobhraj plays the villain. But yes, his cool quotient, conveyed by Randeep Hooda in rationed doses, is ruthlessly challenged and thwarted by Adil Hussain’s upfront and unfettered contempt for all attempts by books, movies and news channels to glorify a criminal like Sobhraj. Make no mistake Charles is magnetic. Prawal’s docu-drama takes us through his amorous, glamorous, clamorous adventures with a potent mix of warmth humor and irony. The material moves back and forth in time (editor Nipun Gupta shows no mercy on the legend of the linear) mining out images conveying Sobhraj’s enormous seductive powers. The story follows Charles (Randeep Hooda), an enigmatic con man and a vicious serial killer, who escapes to India after committing murders in Thailand. After being apprehended and lodged in Delhi’s jail, Charles befriends almost everyone who crosses his path, including fellow inmates, a foreign national (Alexx O’Nell) in trouble, a gullible law student (Richa Chadda) and the prison jailer (Vipin Sharma) himself. A few months before completion of his jail sentence, Charles escapes from the Delhi prison by masterminding an audacious jailbreak that triggers a massive hunt for him by the Indian authorities. Leading the charge is an upright Delhi Police Officer Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain) whose job is not just to bring Charles to justice but also to battle the media fixation and a near-glorification of Charles in general public opinion. Kanth has been venting out frustration even when his wife (played by Tisca Chopra) questions about the intelligence of Charles. Eventually the story becomes a cat and a mouse chase of Kanth and Charles. Prawaal has given a different treatment to the narrative in order to keep the predictable story entertaining for the audience. Of course the slow nature especially of the first half do reduce the thrill in many ways, it cannot take away the other positive aspects of the drama. Other than the Tihar Jail sequence, the sequence at the dinner table where Amod Kanth’s wife (Tisca Chopra, as fine as ever in even a small part) questions Amod’s colleague Madhukar on Sobhraj’s exploits. Annoyed and disgusted Amod cuts short the conversation. A little later he apologizes to his wife for snapping. But Mrs Kanth knows her husband’s righteous ways. Smiling, almost smirking, she retorts, “You can’t manage one woman. How does Sobhraj manage so many?” The sequence gives just the right flavor of casual conversational psycho-babble to a life that is so morally muddled, we wonder how Sobhraj lives with his own conscience. We also wonder what demons drove director Prawaal Raman to make a film on such a complicated screwed-up life.
Having taken on the daunting task Raman does a commendable job condensing the criminal mind’s actions into a spiral of dizzying deeds. Raman frames Sobhraj as a poseur and pretender who somehow manages to make himself profoundly attractive to women. For those who go for that sort of a thing, the film is carpeted with beautiful women – Mandana Karimi, Heeral Mei, Lucky Morani and of course Richa Chadha who plays Monica Bedi, here named Mira, as a daft love-struck woman stuck on a bookish analysis of crime. The bad part – the movie starts off quite confusing. We are introduced to the antagonist very quickly and little time is given to the develop the character. This was case for the entire first half. There is even a long 15 min sequence where people are talking about Charles, we see newspaper clips etc. But it just helps in creating an image and does nothing to help the viewer understand character. The movie keeps narrating to us that Charles is hypnotic, brutal, intelligent and ruthless but it does not show what makes him as such. Many places where we could have expected an interesting dialogue, the scripts decides to take a shortcut, leaving us to our own imagination. The title of the movie suggests that its from the point of view of an officer who is chasing Charles. The film is weak in this area as well. We get no insights on the exact thought process that is motivating the police. To be fair to Prawaal Raman, making some sort of a biopic on Charles Shobhraj would have been a tough nut to crack for even the best in the business. And I say so because Charles’ is not your typical gun totting, knife wielding Underworld ka gunda by any stretch of imagination. While Bollywood does have some pedigree when it comes to making films on the criminals from the Underworld, I cannot remember watching a good Hindi film that dealt with a criminal whose mind is his most treasured weapon. While Raman tries to buck the trend, he eventually meets the expectations. Performance wise, you cannot think of anyone apart from Randeep Hooda playing the character of Charles Sobhraj. The actor perfectly gets into the character as it was tailor made for him. He adapts the charm and persona of Charles with ease. Randeep Hooda gets the body language right and his mannerisms evoke both charisma and fright. His thick French accent gets time to grow on you but it eventually gels well with the character in question. While Hooda does a good job of character sketching, with his bell bottoms and signature glasses and cap, one wishes there was more in the screenplay that focused on his modus operandi and the inner mechanisms of a dreaded serial killer. All the insight that we get inside the mind of Charles is through a repeated reference by the characters of him being an enigmatic, intelligent man with a troubled childhood. Richa Chadha is a delight to watch. Adil Hussain gives in a brilliant act as the parallel lead. Alexx O’Nell, Tisca Chopra & Vipin Sharma are likable. On the whole, ‘Main Aur Charles‘ is a interesting, dark, noir, intellectual film with some brilliant performances. The movie offers its audience quite an awesome presentation of the late 1980s. The movie is for the classes who like to watch such stylish genre like drugs, crime, sex and killings. So go for it.
Director – Prawaal Raman
Rated – A
Run Time – 123 minutes