Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Neeraj Kabi, Shahana Goswami, Om Singh, Ranvir Shorey
Director: Dipesh Jain
You’d be hard-pressed to think of another film whose story is as intrinsically linked to its setting in the way that Gali Guleiyan is. The claustrophobic maze of Old Delhi – its narrow, crisscrossing lanes and alleys, dusty, crumbling blocks of shops and establishments, and noisy homes with paper-thin walls pressed cheek to jowl against each other – is one of two things closing in our protagonist. The other is his mind.
Written and directed by Dipesh Jain, the film stars Manoj Bajpayee as Khuddoos, a loner who barely leaves his home, obsessed instead with spying on his neighbors through strategically placed cameras. But this is not about sexual perversion. Khuddoos watches as the folks around him go about their empty, miserable lives. At one point he becomes fixated with saving a young boy, the son of a local butcher, from daily abuse.
This track involving the boy, Idu, runs parallel to Khudoos’ own story. Bit by bit both narratives unravel. But saying any more about the plot would risk giving away its twist, which, to be honest, you might guess quite early on. Even if you’ve figured it out, the haunting performance by Manoj Bajpayee at the center of this film will keep you invested in the story.
Manoj conveys Khuddoos’ growing paranoia and his deteriorating mental condition with great sensitivity. This is a performance with virtually no trace of artifice or showboating. Slowly and skillfully he constructs a convincing portrait of a man retracting from the world, trapped in his own mind. A terrific scene in which Khuddoos steps out of the maze of purani Dilli, only to be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the ‘real world’, is especially heartbreaking.
The rest of the cast is also strong. Neeraj Kabi plays a brutal father, but brings layers to the character that help you somehow understand him even if it’s hard to forgive his actions. Shahana Goswami delivers an empathetic turn as Idu’s loving mother, and Om Singh in the role of Idu, nicely conveys the vulnerability and complexity of a boy exposed to way more than he should be at his age. In a small role as Khuddoos’ only friend, Ranvir Shorey brings respite in an otherwise intense track.
The film’s excellent camerawork, sound design, and production design complement the storytelling to give the feeling of a world impossible to escape from. Gali Guleiyan demands patience, and a stomach for its unrelenting grimness and claustrophobia. It isn’t always an easy film to watch given its meditative pace, and the overarching message is important but feels a tad simplistic.
Nevertheless the film’s merits far outnumber its hiccups. For Manoj Bajpayee’s performance alone, unforgettable as a man hanging on to his sanity by a thread, the film deserves to be seen.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 3.5 / 5