Ugly: Portray of a Sin-City like no other

Harish Wankhede31 Dec 2014

In Anurag Kashyap’s 'Ugly' the evil is not greater or small but just everywhere. Each character is committing sins, more terrible and grotesque than the other, in this portrait of a sin city. The real power of the film is in its disturbing tell of sensational negative emotions

Alfred Hitchcock has once said "the greater the evil, the greater the film." In Anurag Kashyap's "Ugly." the evil is not greater or small but just everywhere. Each character is committing sins, more terrible and grotesque than the other. It seems that the writer-director is inspired by the filthy characters that Vijay Tendulkar has created in his all-time classic of realistic theatre Gidhade (Vultures) or probably from Dante's Inferno where the characters are entangled with depressing pain with no escape from their sufferings. The more we walk with the characters here, the deeper we enter into the dark and satanic violence of urban life. Anurag without any apology gives a stark portrayal of our everyday vices and crimes, exposing the sins of civil society.

Bollywood has some impressive thrillers on child kidnap ('Mardani' is the most recent), however in the case of 'Ugly', the director has shown little interest in the scene of the crime but has clinically unearthed the hidden abnormalities/traumas of each interrelated character. Once the kid (Anshikaa Shrivastava) is 'kidnapped', the audience sees a rush of terrible characters, engaged in disgusting activities leading towards a cruel conclusion.

Ugly is a director's film, where the actors are allowed only unchanging grim looks. However he brought nuanced depth in each character, making them look different from each other. The story narrates how an obsessed husband-depressed police chief (Ronit Roy is simply brilliant here) utilizes his department to demonstrate his patriarchal ego and brutalize the first husband (Rahul Bhatt as the struggling actor is a discovery) of his suicide prone wife (Tejaswani Kolhapure) in search of his missing daughter. The plot gets more murky and denser as other characters show their selfish indulgence to make the situation nastier. Everyone is adulterous, cunning and hedonistic to its extreme level, allowing no space for peace and happiness.

The conflicts between characters here are not mere physical but are generated out of excessive greed and immorality. It is a revenge tragedy: each one is ready to do sexual harm or a violent trespass without any moral concern. There are no dramatic surprises but a natural flow in revealing the disgust that the characters are possessed with. The acute lethargy and insensitivity of the police (Girish Kulkarni is brilliant here)towards commoners is shown so aptly in an absurd 15 minute long chat about a mobile app that you start feeling uneasy and irritated. Ronit Roy's each appearance is stuffed with violent possibilities making him scarier and brutal. The women characters are frustrated, bold and illicit with no application of feminine stereotypes. Even the 10 year old kid is irritating, aggressive and unlovable, making the film a raw mosaic of pained souls.

There is nothing new to portray that Mumbai has a dark underbelly which looks like a bloody hell (Salam Bombay, Satya and Slumdog Millionaire have already set a benchmark earlier). Anurag too has cautiously utilize this hell-like background to place his tragic tell but with new artifacts. There are clinical details in the screenplay, bringing urban uncivility close to your nose. The murky and depressed lower middle class residences, the unending long and dirty cross-roads and the filthy police lock-ups depict Mumbai as a Sin-city with one dark violent climate. Only at the climax, the audience is drenched with an unexpected shower, making you feel cold from inside.

'Ugly' will make you uneasy from shot one to the end. There is no offer of colorful illusions for hearty pleasure that most of Bollywood mainstream films does. It is punch of social realism, making a sour dose of 'guilt' to understand the sinister neighborhoods in which we live.

This is Anurag's second best film (Black Friday is still his best) with a capacity to become part of 'hard to resist' realistic cinema. To deal it critically: it does have some calculative and unimpressive dramatic elements (the robbery scene) but often it appears that the director has overstretched and was convinced to show only the imbecility of characters and nothing else . As the director has a unidimensional objective (the glass is half empty always), it lacks the honest and nuanced judgments of characters and context (which Anurag beautifully did in the 'Gangs of Wasseypur') making it morbid.

At the end, the film succeeds to impress the audience with the suave camera techniques and wonderful performances. However the power of the film is in its disturbing tell of sensational negative emotions. It is a perfect story for an intellectual mind to look into adulterous relationships from a new angel. I can vouch that the hangover of the film will ask you to get up early in the morning to start a fresh day- only to arrest the creepy guilt feelings that you were sleeping with.

Tags: UglyAnurag KashyapOpinionReviewFeature

Dr. Harish S Wankhede teaches Political Science in Delhi University and has regularly contributed research articles and commentaries on films, politics and society in some of the major newspapers and magazines. He can be contacted on

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