Abhishek Chaubey's "Sonchiriya" (The Golden Bird) is set in the ravines of Madhya Pradesh, but is clearly influenced by Hollywood Westerns. Chaubey, who last made "Udta Punjab", serves up a gritty film about bandits on the run from the law. The outlaws are splintered into groups because of infighting, battling enemies on all fronts as they confront ghosts of the past.
Vakil (Ranvir Shorey) and Lakhna (Sushant Singh Rajput) roam the ravines in search of victims, and are on the run from a vindictive police officer. They find themselves at loggerheads after meeting Indumati (Bhumi Pednekar), an upper-caste woman accompanying a young rape victim who needs urgent hospitalization.
Vakil and Lakhna clash over whether they should help Indumati, and the film-maker brings to the fore not just the harsh caste divides at play here, but also the themes of justice and redemption.
Lakhna is haunted by his past crimes and wonders about the higher purpose of bandits (or rebels, as the film refers to them). Indumati is determined to ensure the safety of the girl she is accompanying, fighting for her like a tigress.
Vakil doesn’t understand these moral dilemmas at first. He is willing to look away even when injustice is being done, just because it is none of his business.
Director Chaubey tries to get into the dynamics of the group and their equations with each other, but his and Sudip Sharma's script is too heavy-handed. Sometimes, it is farcical and suddenly gives way to an emotional scene.
There is a half-hearted attempt to weave in real-life bandit Phoolan Devi's story, but that falls flat. The film's dialogue is entirely in the Bundelkhandi dialect, which lends authenticity to the proceedings.
We are reminded again and again of Lakhna’s past and how he hasn’t been able to get over it. Plot twists, especially one at the end, seem too contrived. This film also has too many characters, but not enough time to devote to them. They all saunter in and out of the scene, but it’s hard to say why they are there in the first place.
The saving grace is that Chaubey's cast is formidable, and Rajput and Shorey are top-notch. Pednekar tries to keep up, but she just isn't as good as the two of them. Manoj Bajpayee is at ease in his role as the bandit leader, as is Ashutosh Rana, who plays the police officer chasing the outlaws.
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