Picture this: An old man dressed in well-worn pajamas and a simple shirt, looking around and standing quietly in a crowded market in Purani Dilli. Nothing unusual about that -- but people are gawking at him with ill-disguised curiosity as he is carrying a large hand-written placard that says, "Sab kuch yehin hai, ankhein khol kar dekho." (Everything is right here, just open your eyes and see.)
Actor-writer-director Rajat Kapoor's latest offering 'Ankhon Dekhi' revolves around a single dilemma faced by an old man: How reliable is second-hand knowledge or experience? The old man Raje "Bauji", portrayed by Sanjay Mishra, has this epiphany when his daughter's boyfriend (Namit Das), who is considered a disreputable character, turns out to be a shy, clean-hearted boy.
Kapoor's latest film, the story of which he wrote over four years ago, is a warm-hearted and intimate account of one man's not-so-adventurous journey to finding the meaning of life. The story is set in the Walled City, with the look and feel of the late-80s to early-90s era. Shot in real locations with props reportedly borrowed from locals and neighbours, the story has a cosy and picturesque look and feel to it.
The hero of the story is Bauji, who works at a travel agency and has been living a dreary existence for the last 50 years or so. He is a part of a joint family consisting of his brother Rishi (Rajat Kapoor), wife (Seema Pahwa), sister-in-law (Taranjeet) and the children.
After his epiphany, Bauji decides not to believe anything that he cannot feel, touch, see, hear and verify.
First, he is the butt of jokes and mockery of his neighbours and the local pandit because he calls the prashad, mithai -- as he cannot verify whether the offering has been accepted by God, and indeed if God exists at all. A few weeks later he just quits his job, as he cannot sell tickets without verifying if it is snowing in Amsterdam or not. He refuses say that the earth is round and claims he will not comment on the fact that a tiger roars or barks or hisses -- until he sees and hears it himself.
The motley of characters that surround Bauji are quirky and picturesque themselves -- such as the math teacher who cannot prove that "parallel lines meet at infinity, and hence they never meet", the pandit's son, a tell-tale yes man, or the many other nosy busybodies who sit around and gossip at a barber's shop.
Kapoor's story is crisp, witty and wry in turn, and the cinematography by Rafey Mahmood real and intimate. As the story takes place over a period of a little under two years, the filmmakers have cleverly made use of costumes, the seasonal colours -- a blue tinge for winter and a buttery yellow for summer -- as well well-placed props on the set.
The story loses some of its pace after the interval, but hilarious scenes such as Bauji wetting his pants after hearing the tiger roar or getting a job as a part-time gambler, will keep you glued to your seats.
Mishra is absolutely brilliant as the caring, muddled parent, as well as the brooding rationalist. Kapoor slips in effortlessly in the role of the uptight-yet-loving brother Rishi, and Maya Sarao as Rita the daughter shines on her own in this collection of fabulous actors.
Ankhon Dekhi walks that perfect balance between being meaningful as well as entertaining and not falling into either the "indie" or the "masala" category. A must-watch film this Friday, definitely.