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The current wave of realism that seems to be sweeping Bollywood storytelling just received a shot in the arm in the form of Indo-British joint production In The Shadows, with Manoj Bajpayee in the lead. Based on a true story and real-life anecdotes, the film is written and directed by Dipesh Jain and belongs to the genre where cinema is representative of the contemporary socio-cultural milieu in India.

A middle-aged man (Khudoos, played by Bajpayee) continues to be haunted by his lost childhood, when poverty and an unrelenting father had subjected him to acute physical and mental trauma. His resolve not to let any other child in his vicinity suffer a similar fate leads him to snooping on his neighbours and drives him to near-schizophrenia.

Shahana Goswmi, Ranvir Shorey and Neeraj Kabi complement Bajpayee’s power-packed show right through. But the real revelation is Om Singh as Idu, whose characterisation of a child trapped in a poverty-stricken, scorched-earth existence that leads to an early demise of adolescence, leaves one deeply disturbed.

Kai Miedendorp’s soul-stirring cinematography and Chris Witts razor-sharp editing give this film a life of its own, lighting up each frame of an otherwise dark psychological tale.

From playing a gangster in Satya, an upright cop in Shool, a royal in Zubeidaa to his latest offering In The Shadows, a Bajpayee film has almost always been marked by its uncanny knack to plumb the inner recesses of the human mind. In the Shadows marks a successful continuation of that very legacy through an almost schizophrenic character whose mental canvas has been tarred forever by a traumatic past — the depiction of a squalor-ridden, dingy Old Delhi neighbourhood serving as a perfect physical equivalent of that scarred psyche.

In fact, if Shool (1999) was an explosion of pent-up fury and rage at a corrupt social order, then In The Shadows marks an implosion of sorts, with Bajpayee probably coming up with his best performance till date as he plays to perfection a somewhat deranged individual whose battle is with his own inner-self — a self that is rusted and consumed by a traumatic childhood, but never loses track of its moral compass.

In The Shadows is a surrealistic experience, with a climax that’s as befitting as the film’s immersive narrative technique. A must-watch.