The title of Anurag Kashyap’s new, grippingly horrible film couldn’t have been more literal. In pace and realism, Ugly is reminiscent of the Romanian New Wave (The Death Of Mr Lazarescu, Child’s Pose, If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle)—the social-realist setting is not as pronounced as in the Romanian films, but suburban Mumbai, where Ugly is set, is vile and dehumanizing, with many big forces at work. And much like the Romanian New Wave, a large part of the film runs on dexterously created suspense.

Kashyap’s interest in human baseness is not new. Many of his films are about nihilistic characters and he is never subtle about his amoral lens on them. His first film Paanch (yet to be released in theatres), the Gangs Of Wasseypur films and That Girl In Yellow Boots are proof.

In Ugly, Kashyap sets the scene for his characters to be judged early in the story. Kali, an adolescent, is kidnapped but instead of being concerned, the adults in her life are more embroiled in their battles with each other. Monsters unravel, and horrible things happen.

Ugly has excellent performances, although none of the characters are fully drawn out. Ronit Roy plays Kali’s stepfather Shoumik. Through a few key scenes, we know that he was the nice guy in college who got serially belittled and then turned irrevocably evil. His quiet machismo and abundant ability to brutalize is suggestive of a wounded past. He is in a loveless marriage with Shalini (Tejaswini Kolhapure). Kolhapure, also the heroine in Paanch, is desperate for attention and escape. She is battered and helpless. Kolhapure is able to extract sympathy, pity as well as disgust for Shalini’s character. Rahul (Rahul Bhatt), her former husband, a “struggling actor" with a grey stubble and under eyes that become more gaunt as the film progresses, loses Kali while visiting his friend Chaitanya (Vineeth Kumar), a petty hustler in the film industry. Jadhav (Girish Kulkarni), a bully in khaki, is used successfully as the film’s comic centre. Rakhi (Surveen Chawla) is a starlet obsessed with her own success as a soft-porn star. They are all entangled in a web of deceit and petty revenge triggered by Kali’s disappearance.

The film progresses as a whodunnit but it doesn’t take long to understand that it is actually a “why-dunnit". The plot has many holes and improbabilities. The climax, not difficult to guess, chips away at Kashyap’s emphasis through scenes and detail that his characters are out of moral bounds.

Ultimately Ugly rests on an irony, and although there are some masterfully crafted scenes to build up suspense, none of it can hide the writer-director’s moral gaze—how depraved are you, he seems to ask, leaving his audience uneasy.

Ugly released in theatres on Friday.

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