This movie is a post modern homage to the 1980 film of the same name by Saeed Mirza. That film was part of the Indian New Wave of the 1970s and early 1980s and dealt, as most of those films did, with class conflict. Globally, the period of its making was the era of the cold war, and locally it was the post ‘Emergency' anger at social inequity.
In commercial cinema the ‘angry young man’ icon was that of an Amitabh Bachchan hero resisting authority. The image dominated popular imagination. In contrast, was a more objective analysis of the source of that anger, and a suggestion of how to channel it, argued pretty smartly in the films of Saeed Mirza, and some others of the New Wave. They were polemical films, there is no doubt about it, but these makers connected the content of their films with the intellectual climate of those times.
The film that resonated most acutely was probably ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai’, a film about a car mechanic who starts off with middle class aspirations. He gets on well with rich people who own cars, and imagines that he can be like them. However, he comes to realise that they want him to remain where he is. Further, when he sees his mill worker father in trouble with the mill owners, he knows where he stands, and is clear about who the exploiters are.
In the 2019 film, Albert Pinto (Manav Kaul) is a drifter in an India that has changed unrecognisably over the decades. In this brave new India, the Corporation is King. The elected Government, and its institutions, are flunkeys of the big companies. Television is their front desk, on which they conduct their deals. The Police handle economic enforcement. Non conformity is dealt with severely, and the news channels, the banks, the accountants and the law enforcers make sure that anyone who does not pay lip service to the financial rules, is outed publicly, and ostracised socially.
Albert is traumatised after his father, a man whose integrity he respects, is called out by the TV channels, and described as a scam enabler. The old man hangs himself in shame, and the Pinto family is left dysfunctional.
This is where the movie begins, but not in a linear sense. The film is structured episodically, and goes back and forth in time. As soon as Albert’s girlfriend, Stella (Nandita Das), files a missing person report on Albert, and every time she, or any one of Albert’s family, come to the police station to testify on that report, they mention some aspect of his personality or his past as a possible clue to his disappearance. This triggers a thought process, that then allows the film to cut either to Albert’s association of memories, or to his present state of wanderlust - in which he is driving around in a jeep aimlessly with a gangster called Nayyar (Saurabh Shukla).
There is one scene in the film that is exceptionally well done. This is a flashback to happier times, when Albert and Stella are in a bookstore, browsing. The ubiquitous Television is on in the store and Albert suddenly sees something on it which infuriates him. He turns angrily to other customers and offers to sell himself to them, just like TV does. Everything, he says, is for sale, so why not him? Stella is very embarrassed by the spectacle he is making of himself, and tries to pull him out, but he insists on pursuing his argument, and even brings Stella close to him, and offers the customers a special deal - they can buy both him and Stella.
The scene is well acted, and possesses a Godard-like passion in the shooting style of the brutal and frontal assault on consumer culture, and the Corporation feeding hierarchical structure of society. Even in a bookstore chain like ‘Crossword’ or ‘Landmark’, buying a book comes out looking like a corporate deal.
But soon, this version of the angry young man in the second decade of the millennium, starts to wander and falter. The chain of events and memories in the film are not interesting enough to weave into narrative, especially a narrative that sets out to be ideological, just as the 1980 film was.
This is disappointing. 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai’ promises much, but lives up to its covenant feebly.