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Film Review: Haseena Parkar

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-09-2017 Udita Jhunjhunwala

One is not guilty by association. You cannot choose the family you are born into and the relatives you have. If you are barely educated you cannot possibly have the skills to run a business. These are some of the justifications offered by Haseena Parkar for her circumstances during a court case. The proceedings in the court, with Parkar in the dock for running an extortion racket, provides the basic narrative device in Apoorva Lakhia’s biopic on the godmother of Mumbai’s Nagpada neighbourhood. From her testimony, the action cuts back to her the chapters of her life.

The sister of gangster Dawood Ibrahim, Haseena rose to prominence in the 1990s, allegedly serving as her fugitive brother’s accomplice in Mumbai. The public prosecutor recounts details of her life: from childhood to middle age, from one of the many children of a modest police constable to a child bride who tragically becomes a widow too soon, witnessing the murder of her husband, Ibrahim Parkar (Ankur Bhatia), becoming a grandmother, a godmother and a suspect in the bomb blasts that rocked Bombay in 1993.

Haseena Parkar (story and screenplay by Suresh Nair and dialogue by Chintan Gandhi) also provides an insight into Haseena’s brother’s transformation from a petty criminal to a smuggler who invited the ire of his upright father to becoming one of the most wanted men in the world. But for the most part, Parkar is portrayed as a victim of circumstance, a naïve girl whose choices were often based on the need to provide for and protect her family.

The screenplay takes us through headline-making events: the shooting of Dawood’s brother Sabir Kaskar, the JJ Hospital shoot-out, the riots of 1992 and the ensuing bomb blasts of 1993. What jars most is the gross disregard for period detailing: there is a pack shot of a mineral water brand that most likely did not exist in the 1980s, and a two-year-old restaurant features in a scene that’s a supposed recreation of 1981.

Siddhant Kapoor plays Haseena’s older brother, referred to only as Bhai. In his older avatar, living in a palatial mansion in Dubai, he’s presented with the trappings of a NRI don—lounging on a vast bed with velvety furnishings, or relaxing in a bathtub with a glass of scotch in hand. His importance and screen-time decreases as the story plays out and Shraddha Kapoor metamorphoses into Aapa of Nagpada, a plump woman with a lumbering gait and menacing monotone. By this point, Parkar has embraced her power by association. All she needs to get her work done, as a kind of arbitrator in her neighbourhood, is to threaten a call from Dubai.

The screenplay cuts back to the courtroom where defense lawyer Shyam Keswani (Rajesh Tailang) rubbishes the prosecutor Roshni Satam’s (Priyanka Sethia) argument that Parkar is a key player in her brother’s empire. He declares that her presentation is more of a debate than a legal case, as there are barely any witnesses or evidence available. In spite of Sethia’s spirited performance, the flatness in the script and the one-sidedness of the narrative are most glaring in the courtroom scenes.

Kapoor launches into the role with complete commitment, though one can question both the plausibility of her playing the part of an intimidating middle-aged godmother and her ability to bring in nuance. She is further hampered by the film’s intent and clumsy prosthetics.

As Parkar is delivering her final speech of indemnification, the judge smiles proudly at her. It’s in that moment—when he conveys awe and sits on the fence—that one wonders whether an opportunity to archive a potentially key chapter in Mumbai’s history has wittingly, or unwittingly, been compromised.

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