"I am going to take a piss…", the vendor says and walks nonchalantly away from his stall, waving at regular customers and almost every random bystander. The camera pans over him, on to the base of the Bombay Stock Exchange and we can still hear traces of his involuntary conversations. It is lunch time and people are exiting the office building, the whole screen is covered by a blue hue. The vendor is still there somewhere in the crowd, as your eyes search for him. The reds and the greens are accentuated, while the whites and the grays blend into the blue. Slowly, in a very calculated pace the sound fades off. You know what is coming, and your eyes search for the vendor. For a moment, a brief moment, he is the protagonist. You are concerned for his life.
Glass shatters. One man flies across the screen. There is blood on the ground. Ash and dust mix leaving the whole scene covered in an unwelcome blanket. Your eyes search for the vendor. And there you see him, alive, and there is hope. You see him trying to help someone on the street, he carries a boy in his hands and then tries to pull another acquaintance, as the camera pans across a man still to recover from the shock. All this while, all you hear is what the vendor is probably hearing. A long, high frequency screeching beep. You have just seen the 1993 bomb blast through the eyes of a nondescript vendor.
The very next scene, interspersed with news flashes of the various other bomb blasts, is the arrival of the bomb squad. The leader of the bomb squad slows his gait down. He clearly hasn't seen anything of this magnitude before in his life. And, all of a sudden, just like that, you are now watching the scene through his eyes. He slowly gathers his step and just when you think he will launch himself into the investigation - he sits down. He doesn't drop down, just calmly sits down. He is collecting his thoughts - maybe even calculating the damage; extent of impact and in his mind making a rough order estimate of the amount of RDX that was used. The next five minutes, you are in the scene as a member of the bomb squad, not as the vendor anymore. The perspective of narration changed from that of a victim to the investigator - both of whom, by the way, would never ever be seen in the rest of the movie.
This, and this precisely, is what made the movie work for me. The effortless change of narrative perspectives. And, the effectiveness of this change on the viewer given the grittiness of the characters is jaw-dropping. Be it the fascinatingly choreographed chase scene where you become the hunted or the way you relate to Kay Kay in all those scenes when he is fighting within himself.
But the movie turns you on your head from Chapter 3. Badshah Khan is now on the run, and just like that you are now empathizing, even sympathizing with a man who is responsible for the death of about 300 people in a series of bomb blasts. The movie engages you and involves you like none other I have seen. Every character has been scripted with such delightful honesty that you end up living the life. The on-your-face hues of red and blue to enhance the screen stops being a pester and start setting the environment ever so well because you find yourself virtually within the confines of that scene, and that scene only.
I wonder if Anurag Kashyap specifically had a protagonist for every chapter in mind. Or even every scene; the protagonists rationale, for lack of a better word, is presented w/o baggage; as a matter of fact. The perspective of the narrative just keeps on changing, drawing the audience to the fence separating retrospective notional justice and clear and present sympathy. That nature of writing was simply unknown to me before I watched this movie 5 years ago. And it has made me go back and watch it at least 2 more times in the last 5 years.