88 Antop Hill (2003)
“Will you dare to come?”
Director: Kushan Nandy
Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Rahul Dev, Suchitra Pillai-Malik
Synopsis: Antara Shelar lives an upper middle-class life with her husband, Pratyush, and a young daughter. She is exasperated with her husband spending more and more time at work, and not with her …
Antop Hill is a precinct of Mumbai that houses many central government employees – as well as a large slum area. It’s a dangerous place where prostitution, murder and robbery are commonplace: fertile ground, then, for a dark and pacey crime thriller…
For all its pyrotechnic trickery, 88 Antop Hill is strangely reminiscent of those 40s Hollywood murder mysteries, the kind Warner’s pumped out by the dozen, usually with Bette Davis or Joan Crawford in the principal female role. While this passable effort from first-time director Kushan Nandy doesn’t focus on the lead female so much — it follows more of a Hitchcockian ‘Wrong Man’ theme — it does zip along at a similar rate of knots to those old flicks, and comes up with some reasonably involving plot twists before blowing it a little with an ending that stretches credibility a touch too far.
Atul Kalkarni plays Pratyush Shelar, an Indian everyman who finds himself the prime suspect in the murder of a prostitute after his wife walks out on him, taking their small daughter with her. After receiving a phone call late one night from a work colleague claiming to be in desperate trouble, Pratyush rushes to the eponymous address only to find his friend has set him up with Teesta, a sultry prostitute straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel. Needless to say, Teesta is dead before the night is out, and Pratyush is in the frame for her murder. Abandoned by the ‘friend’ who set him up, the only lead Pratyush has is a name mentioned by someone who phoned Teesta’s apartment on the fateful night…
Indian cinema, it seems, is becoming increasingly influenced by the Hollywood style of movie-making these days, but it’s an influence that is compromised by prevailing Indian values, and its own rich cinematic history; while this slick piece of work has the glossy look of an episode of Miami Vice (even down to the hip male characters’ two-day stubble), it also has the moral fabric at times of a thriller made under the watchful eye of the Hays Code. So, while we are left in no doubt that Teesta is a prostitute — and rather an eye-popping, sexually-aggressive one at that — as far as I can recall her profession is never mentioned, only hinted at. And while there are many lingering shots of the female form, sex and nudity is still taboo, so we see nothing more risque than some bikini shots and, at one stage, the suggestion that Teesta is attempting a little off-screen oral relaxation on the hapless Pratyush. Having said that, we do see Teesta snorting cocaine at one point, and there are some pretty violent moments, even by Western standards — evidence perhaps that, with respect to censorship issues, Indian cinema is in a state of flux. Strangely enough, it all gives the movie a satisfyingly quaint feel.
88 Antop Hill looks great, although the noirish atmosphere attempted by Nandy is at odds with the Indian tendency for lush colours — at times this almost looks like an Almodovar flick — so that we sometimes get a feeling that he is unsure of exactly the effect he is trying to achieve. This is something that is highlighted by the fact that Nandy throws almost every cinematic trick in the book at the screen in an attempt to wow the audience. He definitely has an eye for the arresting image, however, and takes advantage of every opportunity to stage a visually diverting scene. Sometimes it looks cool, sometimes it looks crap, but it always keeps you watching. Perhaps the only gripe is his belief that all dramatic scenes must be played out against a backdrop of pounding rain and thunder (and equally pounding sound effects). It was hokey back in 1935, but even today most movies might get away with it once — twice, however, and, you start to wonder whether the director isn’t starting to show a certain lack of confidence in the dramatic content of his story.
88 Antop Hill sometimes relies on outrageous plot points that most Hollywood producers would dismiss out-of-hand. It has some typically hammy Indian acting, and the quality of the translation is incredibly uneven. However, despite these drawbacks, it still contains enough sheer entertainment value to justify a couple of hours of viewers’ time. The reason, by the way, that this film’s running time is relatively short for a Bollywood flick is that it doesn’t possess any of those god-awful five-minute dewy-eyed sing-songs so beloved of Hindi audiences. Another Western influence, it seems.