The film starts with an earth-shattering event. At a checkpoint outside Ahmedabad, an unforgettable car accident comes out of nowhere, out of the darkness, and in this moment, the viewer is made aware that this event, only moments after the film opens, will change the protagonist’s entire life. Inspired by a real hit-and-run case (very loosely, it seems) some years ago, Wrong Side Raju takes us into the life of one boy, who was unlucky enough to be a part if it all. The director, Mikhil Musale, constructs a layered patchwork of events that helps explain the crash and consequent hit-and-run investigation, and the result is an exciting and at times highly obscure thriller.
The film seems to be two films at once, and takes on this kind of dual quality throughout – not just in the story it tells, but also in its actors. At times, the switch in atmosphere (a remarkable party scene which drags the viewer away from the nail-biting action and police work) can be fun and quite comical. The stark contrast demonstrated by the performance of the actors is merely confusing, and obvious enough not to be comical, or is comical but in the basest way. The performance of the film’s lead is perhaps the most notable. He is believable and funny, and very likeable. The comedy lies mainly in the police officers who are pursuing the case. They are given sharp and witty lines to work with, and deliver them perfectly.
The chemistry between the two or three main policemen is worth watching the film for. It goes from edgy and hard to bewildering. The performance of the protagonist’s American crush (Kimberly Louisa McBeath) seems only to fill in a needed role, as does the performance of Kavi Shastri, who plays the son of Raju’s wealthy employer. Unfortunately, this lapse in judgement does have minor consequences, rendering certain scenes embarrassing. The strength of the film lies mainly in the story it tells, fast-paced and unnerving, the sense of humour contained within the script, and the promise of Pratik Gandhi, who plays Raju, and whose competence shines through at every moment.
The opening scene is indeed so strong, as are the opening credits, through which we see our hero racing through the streets of Ahmedabad on his scooter at night, contemporary Indian music blaring, that the director instantly sets himself up and makes disappointment almost inevitable. How can one fill in the story that justifies such an astonishing opening? Strangely enough, in spite of its flaws, it delivers really quite well. The film pieces itself together as every moment helps build up to the life-changing accident.
Any review of this film would be doing an injustice if it did not mention the cinematography. The camera-work is professional and enjoyable. One simply has to watch the courtroom scene at the end to understand that while noticeably low-budget, the story is in the hands of a director with an eye for what he does. The dancing scene mentioned above is another example of the director’s ability to instil his audience with powerful images. The end result is a film that you will enjoy if you are interested in discovering a different side to Indian cinema, outside of the Bollywood machine.
Watch the trailer for Wrong Side Raju here: