Halahal Movie Review: A sharp but charmless mystery-thriller
Sachin Khedekar delivers a moving performance in Randeep Jha’s debut feature
Halahal is a mystery where you know a lot. You know, for instance, who died and when. You have a pretty good hunch why — though the sand keeps shifting on that front. The opening sequence, shot without pretence or subterfuge, tells you ‘how’. The killers, though gradually emerging, aren’t that hard to pin down. What’s left then is our need for cohesion, the seductive and ultimate way each part will fit in together.
Dr Shiv Sharma (Sachin Khedekar) is informed of his daughter’s untimely demise. A body was found along the Ghaziabad highway, battered and charred. Almost instantly, the police declare her a suicide, though the autopsy report isn’t in. Shiv stays on, mournful and suspicious, wanting to know more. Perhaps it’s his expertise that keeps him on: Archana, his daughter, was a medical student helping young aspirants crack MBBS seats. Shiv suspects her college and an allied coaching institute to be linked to her death. They are, though there’s a larger conspiracy at play.
Cast: Sachin Khedekar, Barun Sobti
Streaming on: Eros Now
Directed by: Randeep Jha
Written by Zeishan Quadri and directed by Randeep Jha, Halahal concerns itself with the medical entrance fraud in North India. A direct point-of-reference would be the 2013 Vyapam scam, wherein dozens of politicians and racketeers were arrested for sending imposters into exam halls. The widespread investigation prompted shocking casualties, including ‘unnatural deaths’ of students, journalists, and witnesses. Halahal distils this chaos in a simple scene: a police officer walking in on slain bodies in a field, looking mildly flummoxed, and walking off.
The cop is played by Barun Sobti, sporting a thick handlebar moustache (he keeps stroking it from time to time, like a desi Poirot). Barun’s Yusuf joins Dr Shiv on his quest, though they are far from the physician-sleuth combo we’ve come to expect. Yusuf is a bit of a hog: he’ll swing whichever way the money is flowing. In a city where life comes cheap, how much is a father’s trust worth?
Randeep, who directed the striking short film Kartaa in 2018, shows great skill for the terrain. A rendezvous happens under a dusty flyover, truck-horns blaring in the back. Yusuf is dusted up outside ‘Punjabi Chaap Corner’. There’s an elaborate stakeout featuring a red delivery box. Another cop, when teased for corruptibility, simply looks down, like a chastised schoolboy. The rest of the film is flatly devoid of charm, though Sachin Khedekar, with his compelling mix of dread and grief and resolve, keeps it going.
The bait-ish tagline — suicide or murder? — might turn a few extra viewers toward Halahal. Here’s a film where a lone man cries foul, while the rest of the world is convinced otherwise. Quite the opposite has unfurled before our eyes in the past few months. It’s moving that in both cases, the loss is of a bright young mind.