Basic plot: Ad agency National Creative Director and board member Maya Luthra (Chitrangada Singh) lodges a complaint of sexual harassment against her CEO and fellow board member Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal), which he portrays as an attempt to take over his job.
At intermission, when my friend and I went to the snacks counter, we talked about how we felt that Maya’s allegations were baseless and that her own behaviour was unprofessional, even if not sexually inappropriate. But the minute the second half started, we realized how wrong we could be. And that is the beauty of Inkaar, Sudhir Mishra’s film that tackles a host of issues including sexual exploitation at the workplace, professional rivalry, romantic jealousy, and the glass ceiling. It is not a perfect film at all, but its success lies in the fact that it offers no judgement and paints its lead characters very decisively in grey.
Maya, a brash, ambitious, talented girl from Solan meets suave advertising legend Rahul at an ad awards party, and he eventually offers her a job at his agency in Mumbai. He mentors her, trains her not just in copywriting, but how to pitch ideas, how to present herself, groom herself, and soon she becomes the star of the company. Meanwhile, their palpable chemistry turns into more, but insecurity and different expectations turn their equation sour and Maya moves to the agency’s Delhi branch. When she returns to Mumbai after a stint in New York, she is promoted to National Creative Director and made a board member, and suddenly, things go from tense to out-and-out antagonistic.
While the plot itself is interesting, what’s more noteworthy is the way the narrative is structured. The story moves back and forth within the framework of a closed-door hearing, with both Maya and Rahul giving their versions of past events to a panel consisting of their colleagues and a human rights worker. Both of their versions are so believable that it is difficult to take sides. Rahul constantly undercuts Maya’s story by presenting an equally convincing one of his own, and raises questions about the blurry line between friendly banter and harassment; he also shows us a Maya who is hysterical, almost unhinged. Likewise, just when we think Maya’s totally playing her gender card to get sympathy, she recounts events that really make us want to throttle Rahul. The one big flaw here is that what could have been a watertight narrative sometimes gets derailed by meandering arguments that veer into emotional territory and take away from the actual complaint. There are also some flashbacks to Rahul’s own childhood and even his current personal life, which seem to be an attempt to explain his motivations and lead the film to its somewhat populist, but very believable, ending.
Performance-wise, Arjun Rampal has finally done a truly great job – more than Rock On!, this movie shows what he can do with the right direction. And Chitrangada, while not terribly powerful, manages to hold her own despite being stuck with clichéd and repetitive dialogue (when will Bollywood realize that repeating something in English and Hindi doesn’t make it sound more heartfelt?) The supporting cast is also solid, with Vipin Sharma doing particularly well as the standard office chauvinist.
My biggest problem with Inkaar? The distracting gorgeousness of Arjun and Chitrangada. I actually have no recollection of the first few minutes of the film because I was just gazing unblinkingly at both of them.