Khap Movie Review: Everything But The Khap?
Apart from corruption, perhaps there is no other social issue that has captured popular imagination and activism as the issue of khaps has, in recent times. With the kangaroo courts rampant in North India, still meting out medieval justice in the middle of the 21st century, killing couples over matters like marrying in the same gotra or clan, the issue has put the urban and rural populace at odds with each other and struck up a storm of legislation and litigation to put an end to it. So, when a film comes along, calling itself Khap, you imagine it'll be a serious film that at least makes an attempt to deal with the issue at hand realistically. So, the sheer frivolity that director Ajai Sinha displays here is that much more shocking.
The film opens up with a gory prologue where a couple is running through fields to avoid a bunch of violent pursuers. When the two are caught, the banter between their assailants makes it clear that the two dared to marry within the same gotra, which, according to the bunch is punishable by death and the two deserve to be poisoned. This prologue ends quickly, only to have the film move into a wholly irritating romantic setup between Ria (Uvika Chaudhary) and Kush (Sarrtaj Gill), who, in the middle of 2011, are still busy wooing each other in out of vogue internet chat rooms. While this love angle stretches endlessly, the khap connection of the film comes from Ria's father Madhur (Mohnish Behl), who works with the National Human Rights Commission and ran away from the Khap regime back in his Haryana village sixteen years ago with his wife (Anooradha Patel) and daughter. The khap there is run by his father Chaudhary Omkar Singh (Om Puri), along with Daulat Singh (Govind Namdeo) and Sukhiram (Manoj Pahwa), the latter two even having lost their own children to the khap traditions. When there is a fresh spate of killings in the village, the Human Rights panel sends Madhur to the village to investigate, where he is killed in the process. But this doesn't happen before Madhur extracts a promise from his repentant father, the Chaudhary, that he will put an end to the killings. Later, when the khap strikes close to home, revoking the marriage of Ria and Kush for belonging to the same gotra, Omkar Singh decides to take matters into his own hands, though in the most prosaic way possible, leading the film to a most predictable and inane conclusion possible.
The film's primary problem is that its view of the khap seems to have evolved simply from the various newspaper reports and clippings that the director Sinha uses in the credits montage. With zero research into the matter, the film doesn't inform the audience about anything related to the motivations, the methods or mores of the khap. In its climactic zeal, the film doesn't even deal with the issue realistically, with virtually no court intervention or legal relief to the victims here. Instead, we are supposed to believe that Kush manages to get a pronouncement from the Supreme Court on the matter within two of filing suit. Even then, the Indian legal system is shown to be quite toothless in the matter, with the police handily beaten away by the khap members. The nexus between the khap leaders and the political system too is explored in just a single scene in the film, reducing the matter to nothing.
Instead, the film focuses too much on having Ria and Kush romance each other in the most irking romantic numbers possible, dancing around trees, in operatic costumes and running around their college.
The performances from the actors don't salvage matters either. Om Puri, once the doyen of parallel cinema, is now increasingly finding himself in films as pointless as these, and he had better do something about it soon, lest he damage his reputation as an actor irreparably. That he doesn't have much to do but mostly just stand around as others around him overact their way across, should be an eye-opener enough for him. The film's chief irritants are the leads, Uvika Chaudhary and Sarrtaj, both of whom ham it up here like there's no tomorrow. The former can't even drudge up some convincing sadness in the scenes post her father's death here. The twosome have no romantic chemistry, and are desperately in need of acting classes, ASAP. Govind Namdeo and Mohnish Behl have made a habit of playing the same roles over and over again, with the same mannerisms and dialogue delivery, and do no different here. Manoj Pahwa as Sukhiram, though, manages to save a few scenes, and deserves kudos for his act here. Anooradha Patel, on the other hand, is wasted, with virtually nothing to add to the movie.
Khap leaves one with the impression that director Ajai Sinha actually set out to make a terrible college romance here, but walked into the issue of khaps in the most incidental way possible. While the matter of the khaps certainly needs to be brought to a wider audience to make them aware of India's realities, making bad, unwatchable films about them is certainly not going to help the situation, something that director Sinha needs to realise immediately.