Sangharsh (1999)

The joy of world cinema is when you learn of a film with an audacious premise. For example: what if there was a Bollywood Silence of the Lambs?

Well, director Tanuja Chandra and writers Mahesh Bhatt and Girish Dhamija claim that this movie is really based on an Indian police case. That’s true — the villain, Lajja Shankar Pandey (Ashutosh Rana) who takes over from Buffalo Bill — was based on a real criminal who believed that for each person he murdered, he would increase his lifespan.

Chandra is an anomaly in the world of Indian film, as female directors are rare and mainly make dramas, not blockbusters. Even though she was supported by her mentor Mahesh Bhatt, she once found herself ignored by male actors and crewmembers.

Her first movie Dushman was a remake of Eye from an Eye but failed as audiences in India need romance and a strong male hero, not a woman gaining revenge.

Pandey is behind the child abductions and murders that have confused the police and led to CBI trainee Reet Oberoi (Preity Zinta) — introduced just like Clarice Starling in a jogging scene — being part of the case. She’s haunted, not by the screams of sheep, but by the fact that her brother was killed for being a terrorist right in front of her eyes. Now, to help solve the case, she turns to the unjustly jailed Professor Aman Verma (Akshay Kumar). His bars may be iron instead of plexiglass, but Verma is definitely Hannibal Lecter. The romance that blooms between the two is similar to the novel Hannibal if not the film.

When a politician’s child is kidnapped for Pandey’s ultimate ritual — to be carried out during a solar eclipse — Oberoi must overcome the ghosts of her past and a male-dominated police force that doesn’t believe in her methods. While this also happens in the movie’s inspiration, it’s also something that Chandra actually experienced.

To learn more about Sangharsh, I recommend Ed Glaser’s How the World Remade Hollywood, which you can order from McFarland Books.

You can watch this on YouTube.


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