Right up, Aalaap is unabashedly a movie by debutantes – its director, cast and crew are largely first-timers. This has pluses and minuses. At its heart, Aalaap is a tense drama, portraying young college students caught in a violent political face-off. But like a guitar left out in humid air, its strings sag – and snap – at times.
Set in Chhattisgarh, Aalaap opens with a college music show rocked by Rahul (Purohit), the state’s best student, an annoyingly perfect young man to whom district magistrates turn when they want some ‘good influence’ spread about. Rahul joins the DM’s right-hand man, Bachchi bhaiyya (Raaz in a short but crackling role) to win over the state’s most rebellious rockers, Subhash, Brajesh and Prashant (Pitobash, Shamim and Rajput, the last eye-catching with attitude and a braid), and put on a show. Rahul’s good-boy influence spreads onto the three idiots. But the foursome’s suddenly thrown into a situation where before their eyes, an army truck full of friendly jawans gets blown up, a seemingly calm doctor Bharti (Sengupta) turns out to be a Red colluder and in a town of chaos, curfew descends.
The boys are traumatized by the violence – till they decide to play music across the divides. One day, they’re invited to the core of the Naxal corps where Andhra ideologue Anna Reddy (Sharma, whose dramatic heft holds the role together) watches them rock and roll. Interestingly, many of the Naxals are heavily-kohled, just one step removed from Sholay’s Kaalia. But in rather a sweet sequence, Gabbar learns to rock, albeit briefly because that’s just when top-cop R P Singh (Singh) descends on the camp in a blaze of gunfire. Trapped between hostile Naxals and trigger-happy troops, will the boys survive?
Aalaap’s frames are notably fresh, capturing the state’s raw beauty, its gamchchas, guitars, upwardly-mobile coffee bars and dark woods well. The editing is khata-khat quick and cameos by Yadav and Manikpuri, Rahul’s rickshaw-puller father and uncle, add a little Peepli-lite to the proceedings. But there are serious drawbacks too – both Purohit and Singh are weak links in the chain, often wooden enough to rival the sal trees of Dantewada.
Some of the dialogues are heavy with cliches. Announcing they’re gonna battle the Naxals, one guy says, “Unhi ke sholon se unhi ko raakh bana denge hum.” There is no serious analysis at all of the conflict and while Rahul has a ‘sweet girl’ Sukriti (Ruhi), her role is as negligible in the film as in his life. An item number features curvaceous Miss Sri Lanka Gamya Wijayadasa – but falls mysteriously flat.
On the upside, Aalaap makes an effort to depict people caught in troubled times. Sometimes – in a shot showing Yadav weeping without words, the blue walls of his humble home bathed in golden gloomy light, in an exchange between Bharti and Anna, in depicting a callous, clueless regime – it does that well. A lot of the time, it falters. But its sincerity helps as does its music. Debutante rock group Agnee’s composed more than a passable score, particularly the number ‘Paaparapa’ which hums away in your mind well after you’ve left the hall. Good job, Agnee – welcome to Bollywood. For the others, there’s still some way out of the woods.
Rahul and friends take on Dantewada’s Naxals – with music. Will guns or guitars win this deadly battle?