By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Badnaam Gali" (ZEE5); Director: Ashwin Shetty; Cast: Patralekhaa, Divyendu Sharma; Rating: **1/2
A film on surrogate motherhood for Mother's Day. Sounds just like what the doctor ordered. And "Badnaam Gali", now streaming on ZEE5, does mean well. It displays an exacerbated empathy for the unwed mother, played with endearing artlessness by Patralekhaa, who is a target of vicious gossiping in her Delhi locality.
She is of course not what she seems. Never! And it takes a rough rural Punjabi bloke to set her reputation right and earn himself the honour of being the first social reformist of the live streaming platform, a la Guru Dutt ("Pyaasa") and Sunil Dutt ("Sujata" and "Sadhana").
Redeeming the 'Fallen Woman' has always been a looming concern in the patriarchal setup of Indian cinema. Making films about women who have restored their dignity through the good offices of a 'progressive' male, makes the patriarchal entertainment industry feel good about itself.
In "Badnaam Gali", the supporting cast of gossiping idlers is portrayed in the most caricatural of styles obtainable to cinema. While the film and its concern for the 'Fallen Woman' grow progressively preposterous, the two very talented lead players Patralekhaa and Divyendu Sharma struggle to inject credibility to a script that insists on shooting itself in the foot.
The inconsistent tone of narration is somewhat controlled by the stable, restrained lead performances. While Patralekhaa infuses a certain impishness to her role that could easily have become a victim's sob-story, Divyendu as the do-gooder drags the plot away from impending catastrophe time and time again.
Admirably, Divyendu rescues Patralekhaa from ignominy (not that she craves to be 'rescued'). But even an actor of his calibre cannot rescue a film that means well but squanders its noble intentions in infinite absurdities.
By the time we arrive at the acutely embarrassing climax in the hospital (with the hero's father played by the talented Paritosh Sand, pretending to have a heart attack so that his hero-son can confront a corrupt doctor who has sold away the heroine's maternal rights over her surrogate child), the film is DOA (dead on arrival).
And that's a sad RIP for a little film that seethes in righteous indignation but ends up making even the talented Dolly Ahluwalia look like the hammy character-actress Manorama turning from the riotous Geeta to righteous Sita in a film that suffers from a split personality.
There is a vast chasm between what "Badnaam Gali" means and what it achieves.
(Subhash K Jha can be contacted at email@example.com)