Cast: Shadab Kamal, Shilpa Shukla, Rajesh Sharma, Dibyendu Bhattacharya
Director: Ajay Bahl
The Indian Express rating: **
There is so little attention paid, in a thought-through manner, to the questions arising from marital emptiness and genteel, soul-sucking poverty, and urban decay that when a film like B.A. Pass comes along, you are willing it to be about all of this and more. Ajay Bahl’s directorial debut lays out a plot with promise, but then belies it, by not giving us as much as it could, and should have.
Mohan (Kamal) is an orphan with no prospects, but burdened with expectations. He has to leave his small-town home and move into his aunt’s house in Delhi, where he is thrust into a world he has no tools to negotiate: stuck in a no-hope college course (B.A. Pass, for those who know Delhi University, is mostly for those who have no particular academic skills or interest and who did not have the marks to get into an honours course), and relatives who offer him no nourishment, Mohan finds himself entangled in a seductress’s web.
The creation of Sarika (Shukla) should have been a triumph for Bollywood. Very rarely is a woman with strong sexual needs placed at the centre of a mainstream film, and Sarika is unapologetic about being a cougar: she grabs, and she gets. Shilpa Shukla, whom we saw first as a feisty hockey player in Chak De, brings to the part a frozen graspingness. Whether she is laboring on top of her young lover, or having him pleasure her, or standing up to her boorish husband (Sharma), she doesn’t change expression. Why is there so little going on with her? In this juicy lollipop of a role, which should have allowed an actor to explore many shades, Shukla is singularly uni-tone.
Mohan does show more emotion than Sarika 'aunty' to begin with, reacting in dismay and reluctance when faced with his limited options, as well as some liveliness when he meets up with a grimy chess-player (Bhattacharya). But then he starts shutting down, leaving us wanting to see more. Mohan Sikka’s short story ‘The Railway Aunty’, on which the film is based, uses its atmosphere of defeat and rancidness much better. In the film, Bahl creates claustrophobia well, and then loses the story and the characters in it. We want to see underneath, and what we get, instead,