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Mohan Sikka’s short story The Railway Aunty, from which BA Pass is adapted by writer-director-cinematographer Ajay Bahl, is a story of irredeemable human sordidness. There is despair, sexual passion and abuse and a wry comment on the power of money to weaken human will in a big city. Within its few thousand words, Sikka develops at least two robust characters. It is one of the most savagely dark and satisfying reads in the well-received anthology Delhi Noir which came out last in 2010.

Bahl’s treatment of the story is simplistic. The lead characters don’t have much mystery or layers for us to empathize. It is technically a very competent film. Bahl has filmed Paharganj, in Delhi, with neon flourishes—the indoor lighting is also beautiful. Visual compositions enhance the film, although it can’t really make up for the lack of complexity.

Mukesh (Shadab Kamal) moves to Delhi with his two sisters from a small town after their parents’ death. He lives in the lower middle-class household of his aunt in Paharganj. The sisters are sent to a women’s home. Mukesh’s rude cousin doubles his misery in the house. He meets Sarika aunty (Shilpa Shukla), married to his uncle’s boss (Rajesh Sharma). Sarika seduces him to a world of physical gratification in which she is the cold, sardonic predator. Through Sarika, Mukesh is embroiled in a mesh of lies and greed that he can’t get out of.

Kamal as Mukesh has a similar unidimensionality. You feel sorry for him first, and then wait for a turn which will transform his character at least a little. His victimhood is relentless and boring.

Bahl’s storytelling has an economy. Without much background music or verbosity in dialogues or narration, and with plenty of visual flair, he keeps BA Pass engaging. I did not wait for a neat end to the story or redemption in Mukesh’s character, because after all the writer’s setting is a merciless urban microcosm where the act of survival is like going to war. I did want some more surprise and more transformative moments to remember Mukesh and Sarika.

BA Pass released in theatres on Friday.

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