Mayank Shekhar’s Review: BA Pass
Raunchy premise, riveting plot, right on!
Director: Ajay Bahl
Actors: Shadab Kamal, Shilpa Shukla
By Mayank Shekhar
The boy in this film has lost his parents. He has two sisters who are even younger than him. He is too young to support them. Both of them, for lack of an option, have to stay in a girl’s hostel for the poor. While speaking to his sisters over the phone, he realises they could be in danger of being turned into sex workers. The hostel they live in also doubles up as a prostitution ring. The boy’s life turns around even further when he hears this news. He’s left completely distressed by the thought and must do something to protect his sisters soon. He starts working even harder for it. This is ironic, only because the work he does is no different from what he wants to save his sisters from. The 18-year-old boy is a full-time gigolo. He doesn’t feel as sorry for himself as the audience does for him.
He sleeps for money. Would it be vastly different if he was a woman? That is the story. I guess any kind of sex that is neither a consequence of temporary lust nor enduring love must be painful, regardless of what gender you belong to. This is the conclusion you instantly draw as you get drawn into his dark, dark world. This is a dark film. It is quite different from Bollywood romp and masti of half-demented heroes (Akshay Kumar, John Abraham) in Desi Boyz (2011) that delved on a similar theme.
I am not sure why this picture is called BA Pass, except that the teen-aged hero here attends that course at college during the day. Unless you wish to pursue a career in academics, little knowledge on as many important things should take you far in life. BA Pass, as against a specialised honours degree in Delhi University, has in its curriculum various Humanities subjects like history, economics, philosophy etc. It is sadly looked down upon.
The boy doesn’t have much of an academic future. His present conditions are no better. He lives with his uncle, aunt and cousin who would rather have him vacate their place. An aunty from the neighbourhood takes a shine to him. She is a lot like Mrs Robinson from The Graduate (1967). She finds him young and attractive. I suppose he is fascinated by her too. The sex, though hardly intimate and tender, is fairly satisfying for both, and definitely consensual. Sleeping with older women is a teenage fantasy. He lives that dream, briefly, before she puts him on to other clients as we, along with him, observe an entire Delhi sub-culture of lonely, rich housewives who could do with some male company while their husbands are just too busy to care. Deepa Mehta similarly explored the lesbian theme with Fire (1996). The premise is fully believable.
Growing up as juvenile delinquents in Delhi before cellphones and caller IDs, I remember we would spend several evenings making crank calls to random numbers: “Hello, mein XYZ gigolo service se bol raha hoon. Aapki biwi ne payments nahin kiye hain (Calling for payments from XYZ gigolo service)!” The husband on the other line would inevitably blast, “Ulloo ke patthe phone rakh (Disconnect the phone).” We always thought we’d seeded a doubt in their head!
This movie is based on a short story The Railway Aunty by Mohan Sikka, which was part of an anthology called Delhi Noir. The aunty’s husband is a railway official. So is the boy’s uncle. Yet, he lives with his foster family in a decrepit Pahar Ganj ghetto, made alluring first by stunning images of it in Anurag Kashyap’s DevD (2009). The neon lights of the neighbourhood give the film a definite “noir” feel. The entire story focuses on the kid. It’s too much of a weight for the young boy (Shadab Kamal) to carry, but he at least looks the part, even if he doesn’t quite take it to another level. Shilpa Shukla plays the “Railway Aunty”, an oddly emotionless pimp. A hugely under-rated actor, most cine-goers will probably remember Shukla from the over-ambitious hockey player’s character in Chak De India (2007). Serious cinephiles will find it hard to erase from memory her performance in the incredible Pakistani Partition drama Khamosh Pani (2003).
This is the director’s (Ajay Bahl) first feature. More filmmakers make theatrical debuts in India than anywhere else in the world. These are young, brave talents germinating completely from outside the film industry making a mark with low-budget movies that force Bollywood to sit up and take notice (Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus is the best example of this potential ‘new wave’ lately). In 90 minutes or so, Bahl manages to stitch together a thoroughly riveting plot with fine control over craft.
What you miss is certain dose of humour, though that might be a tough ask given a film this intense. It is on sex, a very delicate territory, and something that Indian films, only reflecting the society around them, have been extremely coy about for generations. With time, we’ve managed to push sex so much under the carpet that I am not sure if there is a proper conversational Hindi word for it (no, ‘yawn’ doesn’t count). The film dusts off some of these carpets, letting few uncomfortable truths tumble out.
The promos adequately suggest most people going into the theatre will probably do so with raunch and bedroom scenes on their mind. As they should. They will come out of the theatre having enjoyed an extremely engaging movie. And that’s even better.