Dir: Anurag Kashyap. India. 2010. 103mins

Anurag Kashyap’s new film, introduced as a thriller about a British girl looking for her father in India, is so frequently sidetracked from its main goal, that by the time all the red herrings have been brought in and discarded, the hopelessly distracted audience will not care much one way or another about the identity of the real father or the reason for his disappearance.

On paper, all this has the makings of a great thriller.

A familiar face at international festivals since he broke through with his action-packed Black Sunday and considered one of the leaders of Indian independent cinema, Kashyap has enough of a reputation to get more festival dates for his film and at least one major Indian star, Naseeruddin Shah, to carry it on home turf, but there is little chance of its reaching beyond this niche’s confines.

Kalki Koechin, a young London actress whose career was launched last year in Kashyap’s Dev D., is back working for him, playing Ruth, a 20 year-old, searching for her father, an Indian photographer who had abandoned her at the age of five. In a letter he invites her to visit him whenever she comes to India, but omits to mention an address. So she packs her bags, leaves without bothering to tell her mother and travels halfway across the globe to look for a needle in a haystack.  

The film catches up with her as she’s trying to renew her visa in Mumbai, a smart, savvy, streetwise girl, having been in the country for some time. She supports herself by working illegally in a massage parlor, a pretty lucrative occupation as she is offering hand-jobs to all interested customers. She’s still looking for her father but her investigation consists mostly of phone calls and chats with a friend who might do the work for her and of long trips back and forth in buses and trains which do not seem to lead anywhere.

In the meantime, she has trouble keeping her horny coke-snorting boyfriend, Prashant (Prashant Prakash), at bay, and even more trouble when it turns out he is chased by drug dealers he had tried to cheat. Not only is she beaten up by a colourful goon (Gulshan Devaiah), she ends up having to pay the boyfriend’s debt for him. She also has to handle an additional couple of regular customers -  Lynn (Kumud Mishra), a man who has the making of a real-life pervert (which he turns out to be), and the older Diwakar (Naseeruddin Shah), who develops excessive paternal feelings towards the young - but not so innocent - girl.

On paper, all this has the makings of a great thriller: a strange girl far away from home, stranded in the underbelly of a huge, bustling metropolis, embarked on an impossible mission, threatened by the immigration office and the crime world, and with an incompetent crook for a companion.

But somehow, these elements never come together at the right time, events are arbitrarily manipulated and the pulsating rhythm of city is felt through remote echoes only. Divya Jagdale, playing a portly, vivacious chatterbox in charge of the massage parlor, and Naseeruddin Shah in a guest performance as a cheerful but moralistic old timer, contribute a couple of brilliant character sketches. Koechlin has the right look for her part but can’t quite resolve the script’s failings, and having her play against Prakash and Devaiah effectively underlines her alienation…just like the yellow boots she occasionally wears.

Production companies: Anurag Kashyap Films, National Film Development Corporation, Sikhya Entertainment

Producers: Anurag Kashyap

Screenplay: Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin

Cinematography: Rajeev Ravi

Production designer: Wasio Khan

Editor: Shweta Venkat Mathew

Music: Naren Chandavarnakar, Benedict Taylor

Cast: Kalki Koechlin,Prashant Parkash, Gulshan Devaiah, Naseeruddin Shah