By R. Paul Dhillon
When it comes to the film work of Punjabi writer-director Amitoj Mann, it’s been a hit and miss.
He made a relatively good 1984 insurency drama with Hawayiaan and then made a disaster with Sunny Deol starrer Kaafila. He finally recovered from that disaster to make the well received and well made Haani starring Harbhajan Mann, which also featured a surprising good turn by another singer-turned-actor Sarbjit Cheema.
But the return of Mann and Mann in Gadaar, another politically-charged drama, is another big miss. Not a disaster like Kaafila but it lacks real drama, direction and any thrill even though director Mann has modeled the film after political thrillers.
It is a much better film than those mindless comedies and nonsense Punjabi films but here Amitoj is way off his game with a convoluted story about a man named Tegh-Jeet Singh, aka Jai Singh, played by Harbhajan Mann, who spends most of the film over acting, shouting and generally hamming it up which comes across as laughable (oh and he laughs a lot like those bad villains in B-Grade films).
Jai Singh luckily survived the Punjab insurgency after enduring Police brutality to find himself as a Canadian business Tycoon,but who is still haunted by torture-infected memories of his days as an innocent lad in Punjab. He also suffers from guilt that he lived while his friends and family were murdered by an evil, corrupt cop named Surjeet Singh Sandhu, who is typical of those sadistic real-life and reel-life Punjab cops, hell bent on torture, encounter killings and searching for the cash stolen in a bank robbery by Teghjeet-Jai’s Kharkoo (militant) friends, one of which is played to some reserved measure by the director himself.
I suppose Punjabi film fans used to watching crappy comedies and generally badly written films will find a lot to like in Gadaar, which does excel in parts and works better in the flashbacks to the insurgency than it does in the modern day where Jai Singh is trying to solve a puzzle of his life and prove to everyone that he is not a TRAITOR he has been labeled and that he did not give up his friends to the cops.
However, the execution of this lame story is so foolhardy, comical, amateurish and at times downright stupid that it sucks any drama, credibility and general good cinema from what is basically a flimsy, paper thin plot.
It doesn’t help matters that Mann has wrongly chosen a more commercial format to tell the story (the Thriller-drama convention) rather than choosing a more realist story format. There are hundreds of alleged Sikh militants who moved abroad and made successful lives in countries like Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand and so on – one of those stories where the past catches up to one and how it tears their family apart – would have been a better story than this mess.
Also there has been much chatter about how the film is sympathetic to the Punjab Badal government because it shows a respected Sikh CM, who is principled yet politically savvy. While this portrayal of an uncorrupt Punjab leader is comical given that the state politicians of all stripes are ABSOLUTELY CORRUIPT, it is even more comical here especially since the film ends with the CM saving the day by arresting and punishing the DEVILS in this tale.
May be Mann and his producers got a lot of financial help from the Punjab government or leaders to make the film.
I guess some smell a big CONSPIRACY!