A shout-out for Hulla

An issue that often raises an alarm, but is stifled by either nonchalant silence or livid religious fervour, the right to sleep peacefully is yet to find its voice in our nation. Hulla, a film directed by Jaideep Varma addresses this issue with a tinge of humour and oodles of sarcasm.

Sushant Singh plays Raj Puri, a stockbroker, who yearns for some good sleep and some cosy moments with his wife Abha (Kartika Rane). The proverbial ‘villain’ here is Janardan, the secretary of the apartment, ably played by Rajat Kapoor and a ’69-year old Navy retired’ watchman who blows whistles all night, at the behest of the secretary to ‘prevent crimes’ in the locality.

A film with such simplistic plot creates a complex situation, where the paths of the protagonist and antagonist cross, ensuing a good dose of laughter and chuckles that often morph into some introspection. It’s the kind of film where you helplessly zone out of what transpires on screen, and begin to contemplate on daily combats of your life and even the world around us.

The whistle-blower protagonist raising an alarm against the whistle-blowing watchman is deemed as a threat to the co-dwellers. This is precisely true for a society like ours, where a Sonu Nigam or Suchitra Krishnamoorthi are trolled for complaining the loudspeakers in mosques, rendering them sleep-deprived. This couldn’t have been more relevant than our times.

The screenplay introduces varied kinds of noise, ranging from a neighbour choosing to move his furniture in the middle of the night, a Goan celebrating his music system with a blaring din loud enough to make Raj’s table tremble in fright, a group of fellow apartment owners playing hockey on the terrace and so on.

Among the actors, Sushant Singh is spot-on as a sleep-deprived stockbroker and Rajat Kapoor is impressive as Janardan. Be it a sealing-a-deal scene in a shabby bar restaurant or the one-upmanship scenes with Sushant, the actor gets into the skin of his character, despite the bad wig. The debate scenes between Rajat Kapoor and Sushant Singh are hilarious and sarcastic in the same breath.

The common thread that binds all these types of noises is our society’s absolute disregard for others’ peace of mind. Be it restaurant, public transport, mall, multiplex, office or home, in all probabilities we are sure to find one such specimen, who would ruin our dining, movie watching experience, shopping, work or sleep.

Like every other film with immense potential, Hulla, too, has its share of flaws. For instance, by the time you’re halfway into the film, the screenplay begins to feel tad monotonous. In hindsight, the monotony, too, had to be well-established, and one can be sure that the director must have been quite aware of it. For instance, the first twenty minutes of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Charulata’ will make one wonder why the film is so slow, but Ray had to establish the loneliness of his female lead character. Hence, that’s a trade-off here that audience might seldom appreciate. The hand-held shots lend the film a docu-film’s charm, which make the scenes all the more believable.

In spite of casting Vrajesh Hirjee, the director practices restraint and chooses to treat him as Raj’s sounding board, rather than a hero-ka-friend-for-comic-relief.  The comic scenes are entrusted upon the other characters of Hulla. Nevertheless, the dream sequence towards the film’s end, too comes across as redundant and a bit far-fetched, which is surely a deliberate attempt that costs the film’s screenplay.

The best part about Hulla is that its characters have a job and the fact that they spend most of their times working is well-established, right from Raj, Dev, Abha, Janardan, to the benign watchman. This is quite a departure from most films, where the occupation of characters is merely hinted at, rather than emphasized upon. The music by Indian Ocean extend as a sutradhaar who observes the vagaries of urban life from a distance, yet blending with the cacophony. It’s a rare feat that perhaps only Indian Ocean can pull off convincingly, just like they did in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Black Friday’, where the music essayed the role of a narrator.

Director Jaideep Varma, the maker of National Award-winning documentary film, ‘Leaving Home’ (You can spot the film’s poster in a multiplex scene in Hulla. The film won the award four years after the film’s release), deserves a mention for exploring an unchartered territory of ‘noise’. A seven-short film omnibus, ‘Shor se shuruaat’ interpreted noise in varied ways, but lacked the subtlety of Hulla.

In his book, ’40 Retakes’, author Avijit Ghosh shares excerpts from Anurag Kashyap’s blog post that sums up the film: “A bloody courageous movie to make and an important one, but I guess everyone went only to laugh, and that, too, in the wrong places. Hulla is what independent cinema should be about, a new original voice, minimal resources and a good script…”

I have had multiple opportunities to meet and interact with director Jaideep Varma and have never missed an opportunity to tell him that ‘Hulla’ is his best film, apart from of course, ‘Leaving Home’. I sincerely hope Jaideep Varma comes up with yet another urban tale with a tinge of sarcasm and hint of humour (We can see a DVD of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron placed in Raj’s home, perhaps as a tribute to the classic). Till then you can savour ‘Hulla’ on apps like Hot Star or Jio Cinema. It’s definitely worth your time and data pack.

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