With a kind of brisk business-like immediacy and the least amount of fuss, 'Maximum' takes us into the world of shoot-out killings and the internecine war in Mumbai's police department which threatens to destroy the very institution built to mend the wounds and fissures in the social fabric.
Writer-director Kabeer Kaushik seems to be a born minimalist. His earlier film 'Saher' was also steeped in the khaki colour. In 'Maximum', the world of legally-enforced corruption is created with such a lack of back-projection, history and vocalized subtexts that you often feel the director takes his audience for granted.
This is not the case. Kaushik presumes that we are intelligent enough to enter the murky morally ambivalent world of his characters without being led by the hand.
Naseeruddin Shah, who plays a ruthless encounter cop Arun Inamdar, is introduced to us when a victim lies bleeding in front of the cop. Characteristically the director plunges into the scene of crime when the dark deed is done. We see Inamdar watching the victim bleed to death and then pumping two bullets into the chap to ensure there's no unfinished business here.
This is a world of unmitigated immorality. Bullets are fired not to stop but to merchandise crime. And the lawmakers are shown to be as corrupt as the ones they set out to nab and mend.
Pratap Pandit, as played by Sonu Sood, is a man of a few words, much action. We are not given a chance to know him closely. He shifts gears so often we're often left looking briefly at gaping wounds that can never heal in our socio-political system.
The narration assumes a peculiar pace. As guns roar and Daniel George plays out an elegiac evocative background score to underline the senselessness of the violence, we can see the characters' self imposed emptiness in the face of the volatile noise that they've created around their lives. The hollowness hits you in the head more than the heart. And when the emotions seize the plot in a vice-like grip we feel terribly sorry for the characters for the death trap that they've built for one another and finally themselves.
The film opens in 2003 at the height of the encounter killings in Mumbai. Two encounter specialists played by Sonu and Naseer are at loggerheads.
Admirably the director doesn't use the two principal characters to form a central conflict. Kaushik's narration is as ruthless and stripped of humour and other sources of cinematic solace as the world his characters inhabit. A certain amount of familiarity with the world of encounter killings is assumed on the audiences' part. We are expected to understand the subverted value-system of the encounter cops who do their social cleansing and in the process get so embroiled in blood, their hands are soaked in the very blood that they are meant to wash away.
Hence our 'hero' Pratap (based on a real-life encounter specialist) is shown to kill criminals, extort money from builders and businessman and hobnob with the powerful and profane. And yet he returns home to a loving wife (Neha Dhupia) and a daughter. The father-daughter scenes are done with a tremulous tenderness.
Sonu invests immense emotion in these scenes. His performance takes him through several moral dilemmas. Years pass. Sonu's body language expresses the deplorable shift in power equations. Here's a performance that again proves this underrated actor's unimpeachable versatility.
"When you are slipping you either fight back or you keep quiet," he tells his journalist-friend, played by Amit Sadh. They share keema-paoat an Irani restaurant. As the years pass, earlier the cop paid, later the scribe does. A subtle illustration of a power-shift that says so much about the socio-economic equations of Mumbai.
The journalist's character remains a kind of sutradhar. By the end of the film we really don't know who is in the crime folds for the money and who's there for the power.
'Maximum' is a film that's far more in-charge of its out-of-control sharp-shooting cops than it seems. Yes, there have been any number of films about encounter cops. But this one gets at the underbelly of desolation and isolation of such cops as effectively as Shimit Amin's 'Ab Tak Chappan'.
There are some brilliantly executed shootouts.
A layered sharp and sagacious look at the internecine world of encounter cops, 'Maximum' is a minimum-fuss crime drama where the characters are so austere in their emotions they somehow seem to be constantly shadow-dancing with their conscience.
The performances by Sonu and Naseer Shah propel the plot to a gripping summit. But there isn't enough of Naseer. Vinay Pathak as an Uttar Pradesh politician and Amit as a journalist, both trying to make sense of Mumbai's confounding cosmopolitanism, add considerably to the film's powerful personality.
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