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Peddlers | TIFF 2012 Review

Pedal to the Medal: Death and Drugs Intermingle on the Street of Mumbai in Bala’s Impressive Debut

Vasan Bala PeddlersVasan Bala, previously casting director and protégé of Anurag Kashyap, makes his directorial debut with Peddlers, an entrancing collision of several desperate lives in Mumbai’s underworld. Managing to avoid most of the tiring clichés with intersecting characters, Bala proves he is definitely an intriguing talent and his debut is an exciting title to seek amidst a current influx of new independent cinema coming out of India. Energetic, intriguing and laced with a great mixture of compelling narratives and arresting performances, one can only hope Bala’s film finds the audience it deserves.

We’re introduced to three very different characters, whose paths and fates will eventually cross, perhaps more than once. There’s Mac (Siddharth Menon), a petty street thief and drug dealer, raised by an uncle who has since cut ties with him. Lonely and hungry for interaction with the opposite sex, Mac doesn’t really know how to read social cues from females, often coming off as overly aggressive, which only serves to alienate him further. A beautiful young woman, Bilkis (Kriti Malhorta), formerly a chemistry teacher, is a young mother in a precarious predicament. She’s recently been diagnosed with cancer and has been told she only has two to three years to live. To save quick money to pay for expensive medical procedures, she takes a job as a drug mule and also snags a position in a meth lab. Her situation places her in the same line of work as Mac, who quickly becomes infatuated with her beauty and mysteriousness. And then there’s a rookie cop, Ranjit (Gulshan Devaiah), a member of the elite squad, an attractive and successful young man that seems to have everything going for him. Except he’s unable to perform sexually in bed, and though he is constantly and desperately trying to overcome this inability, he instead lashes out with inexplicable rage at those in his path. He thinks he might be granted a salvation when he develops a hot and heavy flirtation with his married neighbor (Nimrit Kaur), but when the inevitable happens, their touching romance is quickly shattered. As events spin out of control in his personal life, Ranjit crosses paths with Mac during an attempted robbery and when tragic circumstances ensue, the lives of all three of our main characters will be changed forever.

Director Vasan Bala raised all financing for his stupendous debut through Facebook, and we can only be thankful he managed to do so. There’s a palpable passion and kinetic energy in Peddlers, making a perfect synergy with some of the handheld camerawork from cinematographer Siddharth Diwan and a spectacular soundtrack. In particular, there’s one gloriously shot club scene where drug mule Bilkis is nearly snagged by an undercover operation involving Ranjit. The music and imagery collide for several pulsating moments that are vibrantly transfixing.

Perhaps best of all are two mesmerizing performances from Gulshan Devaiah and Nimrit Kaur, who share a certain degree of flirtatious chemistry, which only lends their eventual conflict a crushing anguish. Both of these performers, relatively new to acting (Devaiah debuted in Kashyap’s That Girl In Yellow Boots, 2010) are definitely two to watch. Unfortunately, the character of Bilkis seems to fall between the cracks, and we usually see her only as an object of attraction for the young Mac. There’s also a lack of resolution for most of our disparate characters, as we rush inextricably towards a melancholy note that can only promise an uncertain and unstable future, which, though perhaps fitting, doesn’t quite do justice to the dynamic strands developed throughout the film. But these are all slight squabbles for an altogether impressive new voice in cinema.

Reviewed on September 12 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – CITY TO CITY Programme.
116 Min.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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