CANNES -- Confused, at times naive story-telling eventually gives way to a powerful dramatic finale, but one so downbeat it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, in Peddlers, a first feature by Indian writer-director Vasan Bala. The rest of the tale leisurely circles around two destitute 20-year-olds who fall into Mumbai’s drug trade and a young cop who stalks them; all three carry scars from their childhood that supposedly, but not very convincingly, motivate their execrable behavior. Though it takes a long time coming together, the Hindi-language film does finally succeed in its action-packed last half-hour, rewarding audiences who hang on for that long. Its bow in Cannes’ Critics Week should indicate more festival life ahead.
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The characters have something very familiar about them. Mandar (Siddharth Menon) is a shaggy-haired orphan with a quick wit, ready to do odd jobs for a small-time organizer. Part of what he organizes is drug traffic, and that is how he meets and falls for pretty country girl Bilkis, who is hired to swallow capsules of coke for transport. Although she’s qualified throughout the film as a former chemistry teacher who is slowly dying of cancer, she seems perfectly healthy, apart from a slight cough. She flubs her first disco drug run and, with her chem background, is sent to work in a hidden factory where crystal meth is synthesized.
In an intercut story, hot-looking Ranjit is a rookie cop with a problem he confesses only over the phone to a doctor: his inability to have an erection. Because of this stain on his manhood, the script would have us believe, he is pushed into psychotic bouts of uncontrollable violence, not just with women but with anyone he can find to punish. Needless to say, his line of work gives him ample opportunity for sadism. When his path crosses Mandar and Bilkis’s, all the silly character motivation becomes irrelevant and, beginning with a fast foot chase through a slum, an action movie springs to life, building to an extremely nasty climax.
Lensing is professional and well-handled throughout, giving the sordid environment a sort of naturalness that pulls the viewer into the story.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week)
An Eros International presentation of an Akpel/Sikya Film production
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Siddharth Menon, Kriti Malhotra, Nimrat Kaur
Director: Vasan Bala
Screenwriter: Vasan Bala
Producers: Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga
Co-Producers: Mozez Singh, Zenaida Mastura, Sachin Kalra, Vishankha Singh, Gaurav Dhingra, Siddhanta Ashdhir
Executive producer: Achin Jain
Director of photography: Siddharth Diwan
Production designer: Meenakshi Singh
Costumes: Shilpa Srivastava
Editor: Prerna Saigal
Music: Karan Kulkarni
Sales Agent: Elle Driver
No Rating; 116 minutes.