On the surface, Sonchiriya, directed by Abhishek Chaubey, is a dacoit vs police story from the 70s. Underneath, however, there are multiple elements at play. It is paced like a psychological thriller, with splendid action sequences shot to perfection, neatly wrapped in a non-cliched revenge saga. Back in the day, when mainstream actors played dacoits, the story usually came bundled with the 'Halaat' and 'Majbooris' of why and how they joined the dark side of the 70s. Sonchiriya has no such backstories or explanations and I loved that. Honestly, there were a lot of things I loved in the film but I will start with my most favourite.
Abhishek Chaubey has made it a habit of creating beautiful moments between all the chaos, usually with the support of some heartfelt vocals. Ishqiya started with 'Ab Mujhe Koi' by Rekha Bhardwaj, creating a moment of serenity. Udta Punjab had Shahid running away from the hospital, with people trying to break down the door. Right then, Shahid Mallya's rustic voice takes over to bring us 'Ik Kudi', almost stealing the moment away from all the chaos that had engulfed the characters. Sonchiriya is no different in this regard. My favourite scene kicks-off the second half that follows major bloodshed to end the first half. We see some of the protagonists on a boat in complete silence, with only the sound of the paddle hitting the water. The silence is broken by the song 'Sonchiriya', which is, in fact, a lullaby. Abhishek Chaubey once again depends on the rustic magic of Rekha Bhardwaj and she nails it. The song ends abruptly with the advent of an uninvited guest. How Abhishek Chaubey integrates such scenes effortlessly shows what a fine storyteller he is.
Sonchiriya stars Manoj Bajpayee, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Ashutosh Rana and Ranvir Shorey. A cast like this promises some great skill on display and you get exactly that. Manoj Bajpayee as Baaghi Maan Singh delivers a master-class in a very short role, portraying a rebel leader who is continuously hounded by his conscience for having crossed a line he shouldn't have. Sushant Singh makes a very brave choice to do this film and it pays off. Like Manoj Bajpayee, he too plays a layered character (Lakhna), a rebel among rebels. In one of the scenes, Lakhna, while talking to Maan Singh, remarks that he became a rebel because it was cool, but now he feels ashamed of himself. This moment immediately lets the audience see the vulnerability of Lakhna and the depth of his relationship with his leader.
Ranvir Shorey, Bhumi Pednekar also deliver excellent performances. Another highlight is how well the entire main cast was able to catch hold of the dialect. It is so crude that at certain places, some people would really be thankful for the English subtitles which are normally frowned upon as a distraction. Unlike his previous films, in Sonchiriya, Chaubey sees no place for song and dance. It has been such a major cliche to show dacoits having late night bonfire parties, with booze flowing and girls dancing. It is refreshing to see a more realistic take on the whole thing going to the extent of Lakhna saying he would be better off in Jail, compared to his life as a Rebel.
The screenplay and dialogues (Abhishek Chaubey & Sudip Sharma) are fabulous and the film actually plays out like a thriller, with the two big reveals placed brilliantly in the film. Since it is 1975, Sonchiriya also talks about the caste-system with upper cast constables feeling superior to the inspectors and doctors shunning away a little girl who has been raped just because she is of a lower caste. There is also plenty of patriarchy on display, going to the extent of a 13-year-old son slapping his mother. There is a fantastic scene between Phuliya (a female dacoit modelled on Phoolan Devi I guess) and Indumati (Bhumi). Phuliya offers Indumati to join her gang, Indumati refuses as the gang is of a lower cast. Phuliya laughs and replies "Tu abhi tak samjhi nahin, teri jaat kya hai? Tu aurat hai, aur aurat ki alag hi jaat hoti hai. Baaki saari jaat ke neeche aati hai yeh".
There are drawbacks in the film, the first being the length which could have been slightly shorter. A punch that just did not land was Phuliya. She is not scary or menacing and her character is also not giving the right instruments to create an impact. To an extent, I even feel that for Ashutosh Rana. He is a fantastic actor and looked the part. However, I feel he could have done so much more had his character been given some more depth.
On the whole, Sonchiriya is a thrilling picture of lawlessness, on the canvas of a primitive society, degrading under the excess of patriarchy and violence. It is not a colourful, rosy picture nor does it have song and dance. However, it offers a compelling and intriguing story, something very few films can boast of these days.
Sonchiriya Official Trailer