There is more than one way to interpret Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi, but the way I see it, it’s primarily a ‘falling-in-love’ story.
Set in the heart of old Delhi and thereabouts, the film stars Irrfan Khan as Arun, partner at a local finance company who finds himself smitten when he comes into contact with Priti, a small-time club singer played by Chitrangda Singh. As luck would have it Priti is in love with the future son-in-law of a powerful minister, and when she’s kidnapped with her lover by a local crime gang, Arun must decide if it’s worth risking his job and his life for a woman who doesn’t love him.
Against this premise, writer-director Sudhir Mishra paints a throbbing portrait of Delhi’s dark underbelly complete with local gangs run by rival siblings, sinister henchmen, corrupt cops, and politicians with Swiss bank accounts.
The action here is dark and gritty, new characters are introduced every other minute, and the story unfolds at a pace that’s initially hard to keep up with. Violence looms large over this film, and yet Mishra keeps the mounting tension layered with a dose of humor.
Arunoday Singh stars as a small-time gangster named Kuldeep whose exasperated wife (played by the lovely Aditi Rao Hydari of Delhi 6) lands a hard one across his face every now and then, prompting the MCP husband to kiss her forcibly with no concern for place or time. The film’s dialogue is similarly raw, and packs a bouquet of unpredictable one-liners delivered poker-faced by the ensemble cast.
Yeh Saali Zindagi takes long to arrive at its central conflict, and could have done with fewer indulgences like Irrfan’s stream-of-consciousness voice-overs. In the film’s early scenes Mishra seems to pride himself on confusing the viewer with a narrative and characters that are hard to follow.
Nevertheless, he spins a wholly engaging yarn using an excellent music score and actors that are arresting. Chitrangda Singh uses her smoldering looks to create a mysterious character whose motivations and actions are unclear, and Irrfan Khan gives subtlety a whole new meaning as the silently pining romantic.
Arunoday Singh, better here than he was in both Aisha and Mirch, is betrayed to an extent by his hulking physicality and city-boy looks, but makes up for that in confidence. A word also for Vipul Gupta who has a likeable screen presence in the part of Priti’s boyfriend Shyam.
Yeh Saali Zindagi takes its time to unfold, but it’s a delicious little treat if you muster the patience for it. Under its rough exterior of criminals and gunshots, is a tale of slow-burning passion and unconditional love.
I’m going with three out of five for writer-director Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi. Give it a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.