Debutant director Sidharth Srinivasan presents a landscape that is unrelentingly grim, stark and drenched in blood. Rarely have the unseemly facets of life in a rapidly expanding Delhi been captured on the big screen quite as unflinchingly.
Pairon Talle shocks and provokes and calls attention to all that is going wrong as material progress and modernization wage a losing battle with ominously regressive thought processes.
The film paints a dystopian portrait of a lawless fringe of a gleaming urban expanse that is going to seed post haste as land sharks and feudal mindsets run riot and violate all norms of humanity with complete impunity. It plays out in a space that is, on the face of it, placid, even idyllic. The mine overlooks a misleadingly tranquil water body.
Srinivasan adopts a style that yokes the conventions of cinematic naturalism to clearly identifiable elements of a genre film. The plot is built around a slew of disturbing systemic and social issues that Delhi and its denizens confront today on a daily basis.
Among other things, Pairon Talle addresses the simmering tensions unleashed by land deals, honour killings sanctioned by guardians of medieval morality and blatant anarchy engendered by lax and corrupt policing. These are all harsh and undeniable facts of life in Delhi NCR, but Srinivasan couches his concerns in a deceptively simple linear narrative.
Much of the film’s action takes place in and around an abandoned silica mine on the crime-prone outskirts of Delhi. A watchman, Bhanu Kumar (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), keeps vigil over the decrepit compound.
It is difficult to divine what he is really protecting for there is nothing left here. The gate to the mine is as rickety as Bhanu’s spirits, and the rusty padlock inspires anything but confidence.
Bhanu lives on the barren premises with his pretty wife, Saroj (Saba Joshi). His commitment is to his master, Lakshmichand Ahlawat (Avtar Sahni), is unquestioning and total.
He is servility personified – a figure not too different from the slavish migrant worker in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s 1993 film, Vidheyan. Bhanu has been robbed of his sense of dignity and well-being by years of enslavement and he does his master’s bidding without a pause.
The only man who seems to treat Bhanu as an equal is a pliable policeman, Chattar Bitta (Rupinder Walia), whose palms have to be regularly greased in order to keep the mine out of harm’s way. But when trouble does strike, the cop proves to be as emasculated as Bhanu.
The lecherous Lakshmichand, who has inherited the silica mine from his father, thinks nothing of taking advantage of Bhanu’s loyalty and sexually exploiting his young wife.
On his part, Lakshmichand pledges his daughter, Twinkle (Geeta Bisht) to a man old enough to be her grandfather in a bid to induce the latter to buy the defunct mine.
In this world where anything goes, real estate is valued much more than family ties and women are treated as chattel to be battered and bartered for personal and pecuniary gains.
On the prowl here is a masked killer on a motorcycle. The nameless man is in pursuit of a pair of young runaway lovers. The hired assassin’s path crosses Bhanu’s, making life even more fraught with physical danger for the watchman.
The only time the marauder reveals his visage, it stays off camera. Obviously, his face is as disfigured as the treacherous world that he has emerged from.
When Bhanu, somewhat like the silent tribal victim in Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh, eventually gathers the courage to break free from his shackles and give vent to his anger, it is too late for any sort of redemption. The consequences of his act are shockingly bloody.
Pairon Talle goes for the jugular. It isn’t a joyride of a film. But the palpable air of menace that hangs over the setting and the sheer power of its cautionary statement make it a consistently riveting experience.