Review of BA Pass, A 2013 Ajay Bahl Film Starring Shilpa Shukla and Shadab Kamal

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When characters in a film have unclear motives, there audience feels disconnected. Mukesh, the protagonist of B.A. Pass is a naïve middle-class college-going guy who shifts to his aunt’s house in Central Delhi along with his younger sisters after the death of both his parents. He is made to perform all the household chores such as sweeping the floor and serving drinks to guests. Basically, his life’s quite similar to Harry Potter’s at the Dursley’s home, albeit slightly better – at least he gets to sit on the dining table. He has a cousin who is just as big (although not in physique) a prick as Dudley Dursley was with Harry; not one day goes without his cousin browbeating him for not getting a job and contributing to the family income. Mukesh meets a Sarika, a mysterious lady in her thirties, at one of the kitty parties hosted by his aunt. The next morning, she calls him home for some work.

The two quickly jump into action. She trains him how to control, he learns obediently. And all along we wonder what’s running through Mukesh’s head but never get an answer. Is he doing it purely for sex? Does he love her? What happens after in between their love making – do they talk? Does he grow protective of her? Is he so stupid he doesn’t suspect even once that she might be using him? Or that she may be involved with other men like him? Our penetrating questions get no satisfactory response.

B A Pass isn’t a place to look for character study. The movie takes the maxim ‘Desperation drives the poor and deprived to commit dishonorable acts’ is literally taken without adding any layer of psychological complexity that makes us empathatize with those committing such acts. There’s a complacency, a ‘just go with it’ attitude we see in Mukesh that disturbs us quite a bit. Sarika drops too many hints along the way which clearly suggest that she intends to make him a gigolo, and yet he stays ignorant. He doesn’t seem to have blind or unconditional love for her either, so what is it he seeks from her? He can’t be such a tubelight to fall into her traps so quickly, so easily; he reads Kasparov and aces at chess (he plays chess with Johnny, a guy he befriends at the graveyard), and anybody who’s good at chess is expected to have minimal intelligence. And it doesn’t help that Shadab Kamal, the actor who plays him, dutifully plays his role without trying to redeem the poor characterization through his performace. When Mukesh is forced to turn to gay prostitution after getting into trouble and losing all his female clients, Shadab doesn’t convey the hesitation, the humiliation which any straight man would face in such a situation. He just goes with it, and I find that perplexing.

Mukesh’s partner-in-sex Sarita wears a different colored brassiere every time, but her character doesn’t reveal any colors to her personality except black. So it surprises me that the costume designer thought it would suit to change the color of her underclothes each time when using black throughout would’ve functioned better in defining the character she actually is. There is no good side to Sarita, no grey shade, only black. In an earlier scene, she mentions ‘she travelled a lot with her father and saw many things at a very young age’. We wish she had revealed what she had seen exactly, and what made her the kind such a woman. The director doesn’t explore this aspect, and chooses to keep it all implied. “Oh she must’ve seen bad stuff! Naughty stuff!” is what we’re supposed to understand by her remark and just go with it. Again, no help from Shilpa Shukla, who plays her rule dutifully yet blandly.

Whenever there’s a sex scene in the film, there’s a large object to hide the no-nos and in one case, the scene goes out of focus. The large objects strategically placed in front to cover the entire pelvic area makes the sex scenes look rehearsed because the movements are just too rhythmic. A smarter thing would’ve been to cut to close ups shots of the characters getting pleasure as Censors can’t object a face, can they?

The good thing about B. A. Pass is that it’s mercifully short, clocking in at 95 minutes. It could’ve ended one scene, one fade out early and made a better impact. There are funny parts in the film, like Sarita’s biji warning Mukesh about Sarita’s character, calling her a ‘nagan, a kanjari (derogatory word used for a lower caste associated with activities like prostitution)’ before Sarita can shut her in the bedroom, or the female client who narrates episodes of her favorite serials as she’s having sex with Mukesh. The part involving a client whose husband is in comma (a special appearance made by actress Deepti Naval) remains underutilized.

The biggest mistake B. A. Pass makes is that it highlights all the film festivals where it won awards or was screened, even before the movie begins. This elevates expectations, and you go in anticipating a film that doesn’t choose the easy route of ‘just going with it’. Unfortunately, it is into this very trap that B A Pass trips and isn’t able to escape.

write by Dante

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