Rajeev Masand’s Review of Haseena Parkar

Cast: Shraddha Kapoor, Siddhant Kapoor, Ankur Bhatia

Director: Apoorva Lakhia

It’s bad enough that Shraddha Kapoor looks nothing like the real Haseena Parkar whom she plays in Apoorva Lakhia’s film, the makers have gone and padded her cheeks, filled out her frame, and, crucially, slathered her face with dusky make up. That might’ve still been okay, if they’d just stuck to one shade. It’s a muddy brown for the most part, she’s unmistakably grey in some places, and I could swear I spotted a yellow-orange tinge occasionally. Haseena Parkar, you say? More like ‘Haseena Darker’, if you think about it.

But frankly that’s the least of this film’s problems. Lakhia’s biopic of the ‘Godmother of Nagpada’, the younger sister of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, is a shallow, lazy affair. Haseena’s transformation from the meek, uneducated daughter of an honest police constable to the powerful, intimidating figure believed to have run Dawood’s illegal operations in India is half-baked and strictly surface level. The script feels like a Wikipedia entry of sorts, a checklist of key events and incidents that supposedly shaped her life.

To be fair, it’s hard to pinpoint the weakest link here: the writing which is full of clichés, the performances that are uniformly disappointing, or Lakhia’s treatment of the subject, typically overblown but hollow. Wait, I’ll tell you what truly cripples the film – it’s the fact that you never get a real sense of who Haseena was, even after watching her life on screen for a little over two hours.

Shraddha is both miscast and woefully out of depth in the role of the protagonist, who is portrayed as a victim of circumstances. The actress, doing her best Brando-in-The Godfather impression, inspires laughs instead of dread, although in her defense she’s working with such weak material.

In the role of her brother Dawood the makers cast the actress’ real-life brother Siddhant Kapoor, but it’s an unconvincing portrayal and one that doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding the psyche of this dreaded gangster. An earnest Ankur Bhatia fares better as Haseena’s husband Ibrahim Parkar, who runs a small restaurant in the neighborhood and moonlights as a junior artiste in Hindi films. A scene on a movie set, intended to illustrate Haseena’s naivete, is so poorly written and performed, it hints at the collective cluelessness of everyone involved.

Nevertheless, the piece de resistance is the character of the public prosecutor, played by Priyanka Setia who makes a meal of what is at best a secondary part. Sniggering, baiting, provoking Haseena while trying to link her to Dawood’s nefarious businesses, she takes a battering-ram approach to making her point in court. It’s one of the few unintentional joys in an otherwise soulless film.

From the gang-wars and the fear of the underworld that gripped Mumbai for over two decades, to the communal riots, and the serial blasts of ’93, the landscape that Lakhia recreates to frame his story against has a distinctly second-hand feel to it. This is the bargain basement version of those better underworld films by Ramgopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap, and yes, even Sanjay Gupta. It’s a movie that lacks flair, inventiveness, atmospherics, and just about everything required to deliver a compelling cinematic experience.

The most dramatic portion in Haseena Parkar is its opening scene – her arrival in court, amidst much drama. But that’s done with in the first seven or eight minutes. It’s all downhill from there.

I’m going with one out of five.

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