Ugly: Shantih Shantih Shantih

Soumabrata Chatterjee reviews Anurag Kashyap’s new film Ugly …

“And universal darkness buries all …” This line from Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad came to my mind once I finished watching Anurag Kashyap’s new film Ugly. Earlier this year, Mardaani dealt with the issue of child sex trafficking but failed to impress beyond a certain point. This time, Kashyap creates hell and makes us live through it; see its variant impersonations, talk to them, even listen to the evil that lurks deep inside us and by the time the film ends, you are caught in your own personal micro-hell. You grunt, shout, scratch the walls, hurt your fingers, curse everyone yet there is no escape. The gaze is turned onto you as you become a prisoner in your own view. You cannot escape yourself. The art of transcending is uprooted in this film as characters stay transfixed in a certain space and time. The characters don’t draw sympathy; there is not an iota of teary-eyed emotional drama in the film. Hell, this film even obfuscates your sense of what is real. If Jacques Lacan the French psychoanalyst were to review this film, he would suggest that this text makes you face the ‘real’. The ‘real’ in psychoanalytic terms is something beyond definition; even beyond the language, translatable signifiers, and the web of relations which makes conversation possible between humans. The film makes you relive what Kurtz saw in the Heart of Darkness and you could just shriek in agony, “Horror! Horror!”

The film revolves around the kidnapping of a little girl. But it is everything except that. There is no desired end. There is no linear development rather it is a circuitous motion and we all go down the rabbit hole and never come back the way we went in. I remember Nietzsche’s notion that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you. It essentially meant the idea of reversing the gaze. The idea of free agency is absolutely annihilated. Crime is takes in its purest, physical form and translated into its evanescent reality, an all-encompassing truth that defines us and is defined by us. The film follows a derelict household, a frustrated housewife bordering on the psychotic, a police officer who is ruthless and abusive, a wannabe star who is consumed in his own idea of revenge and all innocence or even the smell of it is rotten, like the final scene where the girl is found asphyxiated and mangled in a dustbin holding on to a mask reminding us of the Joker. The film doesn’t need to send a message; it takes us for a walk around the household, the atmosphere is evidently Kafkaesque, the characters are bleak, even mock versions of reality. No, this film is neither one-dimensional nor does it disfigure reality. It makes you reel and stutter in your own filth; the dirtiness of my phrases matches the feeling of sin which reeks throughout the film. Morality is taken apart, burned down using caustic satire which often borders on the absurd. The police officer interrogates the father of the girl who is kidnapped and asks questions about caller ids and how to attach a photo to a contact … this particular scene mocks the lust for technology which has been brewing inside us for a long time now. I don’t wish to use clean metaphors while writing the review for this film. Something has gotten into me. Maybe I am going mad… This form of thinking, often confessional, often subjective is persistent in the film. Even the reviewer is not an innocent outsider. He has the smell of blood in his hands too; he keeps hearing the schizophrenic laments of a society which has fallen into ruins … Finally, he gives up writing. He isn’t a fatalist or even a pessimist … Maybe he is a nihilist at the end of it all…

Speaking about the end, this film is just about denouements … It isn’t a film which ends after a certain time period and gives you a sense of ending… It just moves on from one end to another, one moral death to another, one never gets anywhere. Ronit Roy is spectacular as the police officer who is abusive and represents cultured masculinist oppression at its most ruthless form. The background score is immaculate. It takes the film up to a crescendo and lets it fall and along with it the pace too. Kashyap plays with his audience, provides glimpses of a salvation but in the end, strips us all…. We are stark naked in the end, enjoying each other’s foibles ….

 Ugly is satanic. It is cinematic chaos at its finest… We never come out unscathed through the film. After everything is exhausted, all that remains is a dilapidated dead body and rain… but both of them are conflicting metaphors (that of chaos and peace)… They interchange, even play with each other… and you are still in your personal cage writing this review as this review is writing us….. All I can remember in the end is Eliot’s lines at the end of The Wasteland: “Shantih Shantih Shantih !”

Soumabrata is a research scholar in English Studies at JNU.

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