Banner: Dimlight Pictures
Producers: Sanjay Patel, Haresh Patel
Director: Sanjay Patel
Cast: Rahul Bhat, Tillotama Shome, Tirth Sharma, Vivek Ghamande, Haresh Dagiya, Mehul Buch
Writer: Sanjay Patel
Music: Darren Fung
It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a strong underdog story do well in Bollywood. These are times when filmmakers are experimenting with new subjects and a noir style of filmmaking, but a good story of the good guy versus the world has lost its charm. Trying to bring some of it back is director Sanjay Patel’s Union Leader.
The film’s simple storyline revolves around Jay Gohil, an honest-to-a-fault guy, who works in a chemical plant in Gujarat with several of his friends whom he considers family. Jay’s life has many obstacles, thanks to the financial state of his household. Both he and his wife are trying very hard to make ends meet while making sure their son gets the right kind of education to fulfill their dreams of him becoming a doctor.
On the work front, Jay sees his friends fall sick and lose their lives due to fatal health diseases from the shoddy equipment at the chemical plant. Tired of their corrupt union leader, the workers form a new union and appoint Jay as their head. Trying to do the right thing for his co-workers, Jay unwittingly gets into a lot of trouble. How he overcomes these obstacles with the help of some wisdom from his son, while dealing with his own health issues, forms the crux of the story.
Written by Patel himself, the film looks like a winner on paper and the execution matches it for the most part. While the movie takes you back to the ’80s with its relatable drama – the perfect hero and his heroism – it blends nicely with the realistic surroundings they have created by bringing grassroot-level problems to the big screen. By not holding on to that realism and giving in to Bollywood-style dramatics, the film loses its substance towards the end.
Not only the climax but also the conflicts that arise, before the story reaches that point, become predictable. There are times when the scenes are long-drawn. In a slow and steadily paced movie such as this, making a scene longer than it needs to be is always a disadvantage.
Another disadvantage is the regressive plot of the young, teenage boy being constantly burdened by the dream his father has for him. He is forced and emotionally blackmailed into becoming a doctor because his father wants him to be one. While the story explains that the pressure stems from love for the child, to stress on it the way it is shown in the movie is a clear example of execution gone wrong.
Surrounding himself with strong performers is a smart decision on the director’s part. He is able to personify the emotions that he wants the audience to feel through strong actors, some of whom are just the right pick for their parts. He thus succeeds in getting the audience to connect with the misery of a lower middle class person whose lives depend on daily wages. Another strong factor is the subtle but strong relationship between the protagonists, which is maintained throughout the film.
However, unlike the plot of an underdog becoming a change-maker, it will be difficult for Union Leader to do the same. Although the story is quite relatable to the masses, the audience for a movie like this is very niche.
Patel has made sure that unnecessary songs and other distractions don’t take away from the seriousness of the film. The cinematography is also a plus as it captures the intended environment quite aptly. All in all, Union Leader is a strong effort from Sanjay Patel and while it has received accolades at various international film festivals, it will be difficult for the director to find the right kind of audience at home.
Performance-wise, Rahul Bhat plays the good Samaritan quite well, showing the despair of doing the right thing quite well on screen. Leading lady Tillotama Shome fits perfectly into the character of the wife. Tirth Sharma as Harsh is decent. Among the supporting case, Vivek Ghamande performs well and so does Haresh Dagiya. Mehul Buch is also strong in his role as the antagonist.
Verdict: A decent watch but it won’t survive for long at the ticket counter.