The line you’re reading isn’t about how Gujarati cinema has come a long way from Kedias to College so let’s drop those obligatory intro lines while referring to a Gujarati film. We don’t do that for Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil or Assamese (Yup, the state exists, and so does its cinema) cinema, do we? More so, if the film happens to be ‘Wrong Side Raju’, a thriller to the core, with its heart in the right place.
A Gujarati film backed by production houses like Cineman (Abhishek Jain, the director of Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar) and Phantom Films (Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Behl and Vikramaditya Motwane) was easily one of the reasons people flocked to watch ‘Wrong Side Raju’, right on its first day of release.
Here’s the good news: The film doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it keeps you engaged all through its screen time of 130 minutes. The real hero here is director Mikhil Musale, who makes you forget you are carrying a mobile phone with you.
The film, as expected, begins with an accident, on which it is pegged upon, but later takes a course of its own, revealing the darker truths of our society, system and the ever-widening gaps between haves and have-nots.
Writers Karan Vyas, Niren Bhatt, and Mikhil Musale must be applauded for coming up with a screenplay that does away from the clichéd ‘Three friends dream big, face obstacles and emerge triumphant’ kind of storyline rampant across the Gujarati ‘Urban’ Cinema. The film never loses its focus from being a thriller and keeps the audience guessing till the last 20 minutes.
Among the actors, Pratik Gandhi is first-rate. There’s an unmistakable endearment in his eyes, which makes you root for him. He is someone who has done the Gujarati theatre proud with his play, Mohan No Masaalo, wherein he essays the role of Mahatma Gandhi along with other characters as a solo actor.
In the same vein, Pratik’s approach in playing Raju Bambani in ‘Wrong Side Raju’, too, encapsulates varied characters in him – a bootlegger supplying the best-in-class brewery including French Wine, a dreamer aspiring for a ‘startup’ travel agency, a lovelorn guy yearning for the attention of Shailey Asher ‘medam’ (Played to perfection by Kimberley Louisa McBeath), and a meek driver who doesn’t bat an eyelid before lying to his boss (Kavi Shastri in a brilliant performance) while trying to woo his ‘medam’.
Asif Basra, playing Amitabh Shah, the business honcho who is always hard-pressed for time, wastes no time here in making you convince that this ‘villain’ is going to be a tough nut to crack for Raju Bambani. The other actor who deserves a special mention is Jayesh More as the corrupt cop. An ace actor who has already won many a heart with his Gujarati plays like ‘Aaj jaane ki zidd na karo’ and ‘102 Not Out’ directed by Saumya Joshi, Jayesh More adds layers to his character with his nuanced performance.
Though gripping to the core, ‘Wrong Side Raju’ does meander aimlessly towards the second half, especially in the court scene. To begin with, this one was supposed to be a high profile case and there had to be no room for those filmy references like Taare Zameen Par and Ghajini. Just because you have Siddharth Randeria in cameo doesn’t make it mandatory for the screenplay to have lighter moments. Remember, there was humour in ‘Jolly LLB’ too, but that had many layers to it. As an audience rooting for a path-breaking Gujarati film, this wasn’t too much to ask for.
Furthermore, the character of Tanmay Shah (Kavi Shastri) is established as an indifferent guy who isn’t even interested in his parents’ broken marriage and isn’t remotely possessive for his supposedly ‘girlfriend’ Shailey.
But there’s a sudden transformation in his character after the ‘Garba song’, where he threatens Raju of dire consequences. For what? Teaching Garba to his girlfriend? In fact, wasn’t it Tanmay who was looking for a Garba teacher and Raju pitched in, recommending his sister’s name to him? So what was all the fuss about, especially when his priority should have been procuring money from his rich dad.
In hindsight, one also feels why ‘Wrong Side Raju’ was made in Gujarati? The local flavor once guiltlessly savoured in films like Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar is often missing in the screenplay. The film could have well been made in Hindi and it won’t have made much difference.
Barring such speed breakers, ‘Wrong Side Raju’ is indeed a trip worth embarking upon. The music by Sachin Jigar is one of the best things about the film. The song, ‘Satrangi’ by Arijit Singh has already become a chartbuster. Cinematographer Tribhuvan Babu captures the film’s moments in a unique style. The opening montage of night sequences, reminiscent of ‘Be a rebel’ song from Rang De Basanti, employing the slow shutter speed technique is brilliant, and so is the crisp editing by Cheragh Todiwala.
So, fasten your seat-belts folks, ‘Wrong Side Raju’ has just crossed the divider of language and is on his way to win your hearts.