Pankaj Tripathy makes an appearance after 50 minutes of a tortuous, plodding surreal yatra, and that too for 5 minutes and then he’s gone. Lucky sod! The best thing to do in a film as heavy-handed and self-consciously cerebral as this is to stay away from it as much as possible. This is not possible for Nawazuddin Siddiqui who as a cheesy detective in the low-budget areas of Kolkata occupies nearly frame. My unalloyed admiration for the actor to have taken this self-indulgent journey with one of Bengal’s prominent avant-garde directors from the 1980s and 1990s who has clearly lost the plot.
When Buddadeb Dasgupta made the excellent Phera and Bagh Bahadur, it was a different world, with a quaint and intimate world perspective which, if applied to today’s reality, seems outdated. I could almost smell the mothballs in Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa (now going by the strange title Sniffer). The values, concerns and motivations of the storytelling seem hopelessly outdated and even bigoted.
As Mohammed Anwar goes through a series of encounters during his investigative work, we are supposed to be shocked, amused and intrigued. None of these happen. The director has clearly seen better days. He is completely out of sorts here, as his low-life detective hero Anwar meets characters as varied as the surviving lover of a closeted (alternate sexuality) man with a wife and daughter who has committed suicide. It is now up to Anwar to tell the family the truth: a moment of dramatic heft, here reduced to a whimper by the director’s failing ability to infuse his characters and plot with vigour.
The limp listless screenplay crams in varied characters, like an old Muslim man whose child is sold into the flesh trade (the episode is as devoid of emotions as a jar of jelly left out in the sun) and the old lady who “travels” to different places, all in her mind. And that’s where the character and the film should have remained. Incidentally octogenarian Farrukh Jafar has become typecast as the feisty old woman. Not much else she can play, I guess. Her joie de vivre is delightful though.
The excruciatingly lifeless narration elicits no joy and no sorrow – just indifference from the audience. There are lengthy stretches of dialogue between Anwar and his dog Lalu where we get to know of his background, dreams, dejections and a failed love affair with a pretty school teacher Ayesha. In the final episode, Ayesha shows up in the wilderness where Anwar roams in search of his roots, and right there in the middle of nowhere strips her clothes off after considerately asking Anwar, “Tum kya dekna chahte ho.” Even before he could reply! As Ayesha played by Niharika Singh, she must have known without being told. I don’t mean to be rude to a festival-feted filmmaker, but I burst out laughing at the sheer self-importance of this eccentric film that is neither fish nor fowl. Just sad.