Kirti Kulhari in a still from Indu Sarkar.
Movie Reviews

Indu Sarkar Review: Why the Hue & Cry Over Such a Dull Film?

Indu Sarkar is the latest in a series of films that have been embroiled in unnecessary controversy of late. The Madhur Bhandarkar film managed to whip up curiosity, but once you watch it, you’re bound to wonder about the futility of the brouhaha surrounding it.

And no, the “Indu” in Indu Sarkar is not Indira Gandhi – it is the name of Kirti Kulhari’s character. Indu marries an ambitious government employee, Naveen Sarkar, (Tota Roy Chowdhury) who enjoys major clout during the Emergency.

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Having found his title, Mr Bhandarkar now makes Mrs Indu Sarkar stutter her way through life. No one is willing to adopt the orphaned Indu because of her speech impairment. Her sense of isolation and sadness gives her the creative impetus to pen poems. And she writes away, until her hostel warden tells her, “Indu, kavita likhne mein kuch nahi rakha,” and asks her to do what other women her age do – shaadi and bacche.

Indu plays the servile “achhi patni” to Naveen, even impressing his peers with one of her poems – that she hesitantly reads out at his boss’ party.

Cut to 27 July 1975, and a police jeep shrieks to a halt somewhere near the Delhi-Haryana border. One of the cops (Zakir Hussain) bellows at the bastiwalas. A dozen women pile on the melodrama and howl as the men are stuffed into the vans and taken away to be forcefully sterilised. All the extras in this film overact, and how.

We soon witness another tragedy at Turkman Gate, where an entire basti is brutally razed to the ground. Many are killed, several others are displaced.

It is here that Indu meets two orphaned, abandoned children. The meeting opens her eyes to the horrors of the Emergency.

The Emergency, imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, scuttled everything from individual rights to press freedom. While the dark period continues to haunt us, the film doesn’t show us anything new.

Instead, Bhandarkar chooses to show us the effects of the dictatorship on two fronts – on Indu’s family, and on the nation that reels under government surveillance and suppression.

The camera’s unobtrusive presence in the fights between Indu and her husband makes for some engaging scenes.

This is the fight of the heart and ideology.

It is a battle of conscience – against an undemocratic misrule – and Naveen’s brute ambition – that won’t allow anything to come between him and his goal. Tota Roy Chowdhury is particularly effective as he showcases his dilemma. But the film falters the minute it tries to depict the pan-India effect of the Emergency.

On the political front, the two warring factions comprise the PM’s son, Sanjay, and his cronies versus the activists of Himmat India, helmed by Nana Ji (Anupam Kher) – who try and protest the government atrocities. One is all evil, the other is all good, and all of it plays out in a most uninspiring fashion.

The climax scene is a staple long bhaashan (read: Bollywood courtroom drama). Kriti Kulhari may have hit the nail on the head with her performance in Pink, but here there’s precious little for her to fall back on. Still, she gives it her all.

There isn’t much of Indira Gandhi in Indu Sarkar. In fact, there is just a passing shot of her somewhere. It’s more about the clout her son enjoyed during those dark days.

Neil Nitin Mukesh brilliantly channelises his inner Sanjay Gandhi. He looks the part and he’s convincing when he says things like “Emergency mein emotion nahi, mere orders chalte hain”. But Bhandarkar makes forces him fill out a character that has been drawn up as sloppy and one-dimensional.

The film remains on the surface and barely gets into the psyche of those involved.

Indu Sarkar is a predictable, black and white drama. It does nothing for us, despite sincere efforts from Kirti Kulhari and Neil Nitin Mukesh.

Verdict: Strictly average
I give it 2.5 QUINTS OUT OF 5

(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at bol@thequint.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)