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With "Madaari" (Juggler), Nishikant Kamat goes back to the film that first brought him in the limelight. In "Dombivli Fast" (Marathi, 2005), a man suffers at the hands of a corrupt administration before turning into a vigilante. In "Madaari", Kamat again explores this aspect of social justice, pitting one man against a rotting political establishment, and advocating street justice.
Irrfan Khan plays Nirmal, a broken man who has lost a loved one to a man-made tragedy. Fuelled by his anger and irked by the complete lack of accountability, he decides to take matters into his own hands, kidnapping the precocious son of the country's home minister, hoping his cause will get some attention.
Jimmy Shergill plays Nachiket, a taciturn police officer assigned to the case, and is determined to solve the mystery with as little fanfare as possible. As the nameless man (Anaam Aadmi, as Khan's character identifies himself on social media) and his prisoner make their way through towns, politics plays out in the corridors of power, with the home minister (Tushar Dalvi) and his party president (Uday Tikekar) engaged in their own game of one-upmanship.
The story gets off to a good enough start - the mystery surrounding the nameless man and his motives is intriguing enough, and Avinash Arun's camera snakes its way through grubby trains and rattling buses as it follows the journey of the kidnapper and his victim. But then, Kamat and his writer Shailja Kejriwal get carried away by what they think is the power of social media.
The nameless man suddenly doesn’t want to remain anonymous. He wants to tell his story, so he creates a Facebook page that details the reasons for his crime. This, of course, has to go viral. Not to be outdone, the home minister’s wife posts a counter appeal, asking the kidnapper to let her son go.
This farce plays out for much of the second half. There are candle-light vigils, protests and a huge swelling of support for this man who has kidnapped a child. The nameless man is constantly engaging with his audience, checking his iPad even in forests, and pointing out the latest comments to his prisoner, who looks bemused at best.
What keeps this film from falling off the cliff is Khan’s wonderful performance as a stricken man who has lost everything he cared for. It is the scenes in which he is dealing with grief that are the best ones - scenes where he is the only person in the frame.
But as “Madaari” draws to its predictable conclusion, the only thing you are left wondering is how on earth did the nameless man get enough network coverage for him to watch videos unbuffered and upload them in the middle of nowhere? When that is the only thing bothering you in a film about social justice and the rotting political system, you know the message is lost.