In the dingy back-alleys of a forgotten Delhi, decrepit buildings find themselves entangled with overhanging electrical wires covered with the soot and grime of everyday life. Somewhere inside one of those tenements, lives a man who sits in front of a TV set peering intently into the goings-on. His face is contorted with a deep-seated suspicion that something was going to happen. Something is always going to happen. He twiddles the analog switches on the control in his hand, and switches through the several CCTV feeds that play discordantly on the TV. He sees what no one else sees. It is not perversion that drives his penchant. He is not a voyeur who finds pleasure in peeking through the crevices of his feeds. On the contrary, what he watches pains him – the blindness of people towards the violence that happens behind closed doors, the dirty secrets that a cheating spouse hides from their family, the ignominy of poverty.
He is not a voyeur who finds pleasure in peeking through the crevices of his feeds. On the contrary, what he watches pains him – the blindness of people towards the violence that happens behind closed doors, the dirty secrets that a cheating spouse hides from their family, the ignominy of poverty.
Manoj Bajpayee reminds you of Aronofsky’s character Max Cohen, from his 1998 film Pi, who lives on the brink of derangement. Cohen struggles to find coherence between the regularity of mathematics and the cacophony of the human existence. Bajpayee’s character Khuddoos, as we come to know, is a TV-repairman which explains all the electrical junk and spare-parts lying around in his room. He is, however, so consumed by his self-inflicted vigil that he doesn’t leave his room, not even to eat. When he tries to sleep, his mind would refuse to shut down. If not for his dear friend Ganeshi, played by Ranvir Shorey, he would very likely starve to death.
In a parallel storyline we watch a teenage boy named Idris aka “Iddu” navigate the precarious terraces of the old town. The neighborhoods look similar to where Khuddoos lives, but as he says – “Bhul bhulaiya hai yeh. Ek baar andar aa gaye toh bahar nikalna mushkil hai.” (It’s a maze. Once you’re in, it is difficult to get out). They all look the same. Nothing ever changes here. Iddu doesn’t like to work at his father’s meat shop. While making deliveries, he would often slink away with his friend and peer through windows, into people’s lives. He feels at home only with his doting mother who protects him from his father’s wrath. He could take his father’s beatings though. After all, he was the provider of the family and knew what was best for them.
In one of his interviews with DNA India, Bajpayee says – “Gali Guleiyan has been my most difficult role.” And rightly so. For a veteran like him, acting itself comes as second nature. However, Khuddoos’s character demands something more – the image of a man haunted by his own past. This haunting is so dire that, it has now seeped into his reality. In the close-up shots that feature his livid eyes, you see a wild impatience, a paranoia that cannot be conjured up in an acting lesson.
On the other side of that wall, Khuddoos would often hear the sounds of the father’s anger and the mother’s pleadings. He would switch through his CCTV feeds and try to see into the house but his cameras seem to fail him this time. Bajpayee’s pain is palpable through his sunken eyes. He looks debilitated as if his obsession were physically consuming him inch by inch. He knows that no one else would save Iddu if he doesn’t, and that devours him from the inside. In one of his interviews with DNA India, Bajpayee says – “Gali Guleiyan has been my most difficult role.” And rightly so. For a veteran like him, acting itself comes as second nature. However, Khuddoos’s character demands something more – the image of a man haunted by his own past. This haunting is so dire that it has now seeped into his reality. In the close-up shots that feature his livid eyes, you see a wild impatience, a paranoia that cannot be conjured up in an acting lesson.
Director Dipesh Jain, intelligently, keeps the two arcs apart and yet connected enough to feel continuous. If you have been unwaveringly attentive, the similarities between Iddu and Khuddoos would open up to you like a book – Iddu’s voyeurism, his regular visits to a TV repair-shop where they would watch old films and the domestic violence that would spark his hatred for the apathy of people. Iddu is Khuddoos, and Khuddoos is Iddu. You would probably go through one of the two experiences while watching the film – you would either make this connection by intermission like I did, and spend the rest of the film pitying Khuddoos as he suffers through the sound of his own memories; or you would be caught unaware by the revelation at the end, and suddenly everything would start making sense – why Iddu never responds to Khuddoos’ calls, why the policemen don’t find anything when Khuddoos’s reports domestic violence.
Gali Guleiyan is a brilliant masterpiece in its own right. The description of ‘a psychological drama’ does not do justice to the depth of writing that has gone behind the scenes to make this story come alive. Kai Meidendorp’s beautiful cinematography brings out an aspect of Delhi that almost never makes it to the outside world. It’s as if the psychological gloom of Bajpayee hangs over the town like a shadow. His younger self Iddu, played by Om Singh, believably leads up to the culmination of his growing-up into Khuddoos. Neeraj Kabi is menacing as the abusive father and gives some of the most unsettling moments that you would see in the film. Shahana Goswami as the abiding wife adds a semblance of normalcy to an otherwise dark screenplay. Gali Guleiyan is not your typical pseudo-real reflection of life. From the very first shot, you are pulled into this quagmire of haplessness and a feeling that you can never escape this place. Gali Guleiyan is the quintessential spider-web of a movie, which would capture your psyché and won’t let it go. This is the power that a film can wield, and this is why I write.