First time director Ajay Bahl direct Shadab Kamal and Shilpa Shukla in the B.A.Pass. with the trailers that promised a bold look at coming of age drama and an erotic psychological noir film . What we end up getting is a half-baked, over stylized and a narratively incomplete attempt that leaves a lot to be desired off.
After losing his parents to an accident Mukesh (Kamal) moves in with his aunt and uncle who constantly remind him of what a burden he is on their meager income. Mukesh goes about enduring daily barbs and doing household chores for his aunt when he happens to meet Sarika (Shukla). Sarika lures Kamal in and the movie takes off from there. The first encounter between Mukesh and Sarika is a little abrupt to say the least. There is no foreplay, no seduction which would make us squirm as we are seeing a supposedly innocent boy being lured into a trap. But that minor misstep aside the pillow talk between Shukla and Kamal is fun and cheeky and gave me hopes that this could deliver on the potential.
In the acting department Shukla has been garnering rave reviews for her portrayal of the strong character that is not afraid to use her sexuality as a weapon. This is the first film I have seen her in after the very impressive Chak De India. Here too there is nothing particularly bad about what she does except that in some of the more intimate scenes she hams it up a little too much for it to appear believable. As for Kamal he does a better job of being more believable in those intimate scenes. There is intensity to him even in quite scenes and he is someone who clearly has a lot of potential handling complex roles.
Where I found the movie lacking was in the single dimensional treatment of the subject. There are scenes which went on for way too long with no impact on the viewers. The stories of the sisters were mostly forgotten. There are movies that can do with having their running time cut short, in my opinion this movie was missing an entire act where the consequences of the characters action needed to be fleshed out a little more. Based on a short story “The Railway Aunty” the story needed more character development rather than relying on random sex-scenes and chess moves to get the story moving along. Also my perennial gripe with the Indian filmmakers not knowing how to film an intimate scene still continues. We might have written the book on carnal pleasures but when it comes to depicting it on screen we suck real bad (pun may have been intended). This movie was not an entire story in itself it felt more episodic and incomplete. Also the stereotype portrayal of the women Kamal ends up being with is another thing that irked me more than it would to most people because I’ve seen it done better in countless other movies and TV shows, take Hung for that matter. And to underutilize Deepti Naval is a criminal offense. Also for a movie whose title claims B.A.Pass the character is referred to as 12th pass and he still seems to be going to college, and if the relationship was supposed to grow over the ensuing years of his “education” it was forgotten or left on the editing floors.
The background score by Aloknanda Dasgupta is brilliant and very effective especially when it is nothing more than a loud booming cello bass. I would have walked out had the music not been as great as it was and it did manage to elevate the movie above a below-average wannabe noir. The cinematography by Ajay Bahl lends a very Nicholas Winding Refn-ish feel with the Neon lights and the indirect lighting. The visual quality of the film is deserving of a much better narrative then the script by Ritesh Shah.
When I got up for the national anthem I was surprised to see nearly 70% of the theatre was filled – this on a Tuesday night 11pm show. I thought to myself considering the buzz around the movie the Indian audience is showing up in numbers to encourage such indie movies and that it is a good sign. It only took the first show of skin for the illiterate herd to raise its ugly hyena like cackle. Seriously we must be amongst the most prude and immature audiences ever. But to those who will contend that I did not like the movie because of the audience let me state that it was offset by the plushest recliners and the most comfortable viewing experience. So I didn’t like the movie because it was just not a good movie.
The only reason I’d recommend anyone to see this movie would be because of the cello bass background score and the Neon-lit cinematography.