Showing the filthy, frothy teeth of rabid PTSD haunting the narrow streets of Old Delhi, Gali Guleiyan (In the Shadows) gets under your trembling skin with the story of a man who is lost in the maze of his mind. The Old Delhi charm and romanticism of the little communities that you’ve heard of, even if you haven’t been there yourself, come tumbling down in the setting of Gali Guleiyan. Comforting yourself with the idea that this may just be a dystopian projection comes with the risk of the exact denial this movie shames under the cloak of the doomed spiral of a troubled man.

With twists that you’ll most likely see coming a mile away, the film still aspires to build up the mystery that is aided by the horrors of wrecked mental health and the normalization of abuse. Debutant director Dipesh Jain’s psychological drama that premiered at the 22nd Busan International Film Festival is a scarring critique of the communities that would flock around like their pigeons to see someone struggle and not lift a finger to help. Manoj Bajpayee soars as an actor with his character Khuddoos drowning in the pain of unhealed trauma.

As troubled Khuddoos hides in his dingy room full of self-designed CCTV surveillance of the neighborhood, the claustrophobic audience is to be disturbed by the frightful living situation a cornered man can be okay with. We are also to instinctively sympathize with his self-destructive process of helping a local kid. What else do we expect from a fallen man forsaken by society, or arguably a world numbed down by the Bystander Effect? 

In the Shadows (Gali Guleiyan): Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis


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Neglecting his shabby old repair store, middle-aged Khuddoos (Bajpayee) isolates himself in his decrepit Old Delhi home to keep an eye on the happenings inside the neighboring houses. In the maze-like city where loneliness engulfs Khuddoos, his only friend is Ganeshi (Ranvir Shorey), and he does what he can to keep Khuddoos’ survival in check. With even his brother getting in touch for the first time in 23 long years only to berate and exploit him, his wrecked emotional state is not surprising. He feels as though he will never be able to get out of the ditch that his locale, home, and brother savor the opportunity to remind him of the same.

Sunken in his unstable days, Khuddoos hears his next-door neighbor Idu’s (Om Singh) helpless cries as he gets bashed up by his father Liakat (Neeraj Kabi). Liakat is a local butcher who would make his kid work rather than send him to school, and god forbid if young Idu ever gets on his nerves! Idu spends his days strutting around the city with his friend and peeping into his neighbors’ homes. His pregnant mother (Shahana Goswami) tries her hardest to keep his father from attacking him while she takes care of his little brother. 

The screams piercing the wall Khuddoos shares with Idu disturb him profusely, and he finds a purpose in trying to help the poor kid. However, not being able to locate Idu’s house, even with his secret surveillance system, messes with his troubled psyche to the point of complete emotional unraveling. Triggered by the apathetic indifference of everyone around him, Khuddoos embraces dysfunction in his search for Idu.

Idu’s days are suffocated in the dead-end life with an abusive father who will forever have him in a death grip. He dreams of running away as far as he can from his awful life and taking his mom with him. When his mom starts labor, unable to find his father, Idu rushes to get the local midwife. Without the assistance of a proper doctor, his newborn brother passes away in the arms of the midwife. Idu’s patience runs dry when his father tries to hit him again. He hits back this time and runs away to the railway station, hoping to get away from his nightmare of life once and for all. 

In the Shadows (Gali Guleiyan): Movie Review

Manoj Bajpayee’s Travis Bickle-esque lead perfectly grasps the essence of a man on the brink of a complete breakdown. Bajpayee’s troubled Khuddoos is as much a critique of the coldness of a society that flaunts the mask of the community as it is an enervating study of how trauma affects a well-meaning man. Through Khuddoos’ imprisonment in the daunting maze lingers, the feeling of claustrophobia that Bajpayee communicates with his disturbingly compelling portrayal of our messed up lead. His anxiety as he starts to lose the sense of time–and even that of physical pain in his breathless search for the abused kid–leaks out through the cracks of his broken mind and catches up to you as you accompany him in his unraveling.

The conscious amalgamation of the claustrophobic “fight or flight” mood and the setting made of the gloomy old houses and lanes is a first in Hindi cinema. Dipesh Jain’s affecting screenplay is sharpened by Kai Miedendorp’s mastery in capturing the airlessness and the melancholy that envelopes the cubed cage-like patterns of the locale. Idu’s fear of being stuck there forever echoes in the decayed ruin that his friend is to inherit from his father, while Khuddoos’ feeling of being stuck finds its haunting outlet in the puzzles of the streets.

Gali Guleiyan for Bajpayee was his The Godfather and Taxi Driver. The sheer psychological burden of committing himself to play Khuddoos had reportedly gotten to him. The neighborhood voyeur who sees himself as a vigilante may not be a new trope in psychological dramas. But Khuddoos stands out in the crowd of emotionally troubled leads with what is perhaps his absolute selflessness. So much so that even as he dissociates completely from his horrifying childhood and blocks out the traumatic memories, his concern for Idu comes from a place of innate goodness. In no way does the film glamorize the doomed “hero” but the understanding that he evidently will receive–he deserves.

In the Shadows (Gali Guleiyan): Movie Ending Explained

Did Khuddoos find Idu?

Dragged back home from the train station by his father, Idu falls right back into the pattern of abuse. This time his father threatens to keep him hostage if that’s what it takes to keep him here. Resting on his mother’s lap, Idu listens to the stories of how good her life was before she got married and came here. His mom tells him how his birth ended her long depressive phase that she could not get out of. Idu decides he can not just run away, leaving her in the hellhole, and promises to her that he will always be with her. 

That night Idu wakes up from his sleep and sits beside his sleeping father. In a moment of predetermined rage, he puts a pillow over his father’s head and suffocates him. The sounds rattle up Khuddoos on the other side of the wall, and he’s now determined to do whatever it takes to help Idu. As Idu’s father dies, Khuddoos breaks down the wall and finds nothing on the other side.

Who is Idu?

Seeing that no one behind the wall communicates the sounds between the two houses, Khuddoos can not help but face the truth that his mind had blocked out–perhaps to protect him. He hangs a large picture frame over the hole in the wall and wipes off the layers of dust piled up on it. With every wipe clearing the picture, the veil of his denial slowly falls off. It is a picture of Idu’s family. And he is Idu. 

Blocking out a horrifying memory or even an entire period of time isn’t uncommon among trauma survivors. With Khuddoos accepting reality, all the puzzle pieces scattered throughout the story come together. When his brother visited him, he mentioned that Khuddoos had changed his name. Their conflict also made Khuddoos remind him that his brother is now free and lives a good life because of him. Khuddoos/Idu murdered their father and freed his family.

Weeks after not hearing from Khuddoos, Ganeshi and some locals break into his house and look for him. But he’s not to be found anywhere. Everyone is shocked to see a man vanish from a home when the door is locked from the inside. However, the look on Ganeshi’s face is that of realization and gloom. Khuddoos has finally gotten lost like he always said he would. 

Gali Guleiyan was part of The 10 Criminally Underrated Hindi Films of 2018

In the Shadows (Gali Guleiyan) Official Trailer

In the Shadows (Gali Guleiyan) Movie Links: IMDb
Where to watch In the Shadows "Gali Guleiyan"

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