Published Sep 06, 2012Funded entirely by a Facebook campaign, Mumbai director Vasan Bala's feature film debut is a pioneer in a variety of ways. In addition to demonstrating that social media can be used for something other than narcissistic ramblings and bitchy comments, Peddlers features a strong, new independent voice of Indian cinema, depicting a gritty, candid side of Mumbai while mixing in complex plotting and naturalistic, nuanced performances.
Although, in doing so, Bala has adopted the globally standard narrative device of weaving together multiple disconnected storylines, which is ostensibly the cinematic status quo for didactic urban examinations. Only with this angry take on a fractured Mumbai, the contrivance is kept to a minimum as orphaned drug dealer and petty criminal Mac (Siddarth Menon) manoeuvres his way through the criminal underworld adjacent nascent drug mule Bilkis (Kriti Malhotra), whose Breaking Bad journey of malfeasance similarly stems from the injustice of cancer.
Their trek through the underworld is juxtaposed with the thinly veiled rage and power-driven existence of rookie cop Ranjit (Gulshan Devaiah), who compensates for his genital deformity by leaving soap-filled condoms in garbage bins to give the impression of performance to passed out conquests.
Even if the notion of power as compensation for threatened masculinity is a bit of a cliché, the unflinching portrayal of constructed identity as brute, unapologetic force generates the desired intensity, especially when Ranjit's attempt to develop a traditional relationship with an affable, well-adjusted woman ends disastrously.
Even though the dialogue is occasionally inaudible over the propulsive soundtrack – itself influenced by both Western and Eastern styles – and there's an abundance of footage that doesn't aid tone, narrative or characterization, the sheer ambition of this work demonstrates the potential of a good storyteller, the clever dialogue and elaborate depiction of conflicted characters driving everything forward to an increasingly foreboding climax.
And at the end of it all, we're left with the devastating notion that sheer survival often means callousness and sacrifice. (AKFPL)