According to the official brochure for the New York Indian Film Festival, Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly is “a terrible tale of corruption, indifference and systemic violence [which] starts when the 10-year-old daughter of an aspiring actor disappears.”
Given that description, I didn’t expect to laugh several times during the NYIFF’s opening night screening of the film earlier this month. But as the viewer watches the aftermath of the child’s sudden abduction, there are severely deeply cynical, darkly hilarious scenes that show Anurag Kashyap’s talents in full form.
The film’s central event is the kidnapping of 10-year-old Kali, which occurs on a Saturday when she is in her divorced, shiftless father Rahul’s care. While it appears on the surface that Rahul loves his daughter and wants her to be happy, it’s also clear that he is completely unable to put Kali’s needs before his own, a circumstance that unintentionally contributed to the tragedy. (Kali disappears when Rahul leaves her waiting inside his car while he discusses business with his best friend and casting director Chaitanya, in the hopes of finally getting his big break.)
Immediately after Kali’s disappearance, the viewer is left wondering just who would benefit from this child’s disappearance and the extortion that follows. The answer becomes quickly apparent: EVERYONE in Kali’s life has a reason to hold her for ransom. Her bored housewife mother struggles to create her own identity while living with her domineering second husband Bose. Bose, in turn, happens to be a police chief and uses his official powers to both dive full force into the investigation and to manipulate everyone in Kali’s life for his own purposes.
As both Rahul and Bose try to outmaneuver each other in their search for the child, they each use everything in their power to bring the other down. (As a police official, Bose has a distinct advantage here and uses it to get Rahul interrogated and arrested several times.)
One of my biggest criticisms of the film is that with all of the manipulations, ransom requests and other terrible things that are jam-packed into this 128 minute film, it can be hard to keep track of all of the different plot lines.
The New York Film Festival’s screening was immediately followed by a Q&A with the director himself.
“I didn’t think you could get darker than Gangs of Wasseypur. But this I think was darker,” noted festival director Aseem Chhabra.
“I think that there is darkness in all of us,” Kashyap replied.
That statement may be debatable. But after watching Ugly, the viewer will certainly agree that there is darkness in Anurag Kashyap’s imagination.