The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - STOLEN | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - STOLEN

Stolen review
Two brothers are targeted by an angry mob when they help a woman find her abducted baby.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Karan Tejpal

Starring: Abhishek Banerjee, Shubham, Mia Maelzer, Harish Khanna, Sahidur Rahaman

Stolen poster

"There are two Indias. Neither cares much for the other. But sometimes they collide."

Those words open director Karan Tejpal's Stolen, a mystery wrapped inside a social drama wrapped inside a chase thriller. Both the mystery and social drama ultimately give way to the chase thriller, but while not exactly subtle, it certainly gets its point across regarding the injustice of a class system that appears to have left most people willing only to look out for themselves.

Stolen review

The film opens with the distressing image of a woman, Jhumpa (Mia Maelzer), having her baby snatched from her arms as she sleeps on the bench of a railway station. When Jhumpa wakes up she understandably causes a loud commotion, leading the police to intervene. Photographer Raman (Shubham) is held as a witness, the infant thief having bumped into him as he arrived on the platform. This causes much annoyance for Raman's brother Gautam (Abhishek Banerjee), as the siblings are already running late for their mother's wedding.

Following a lead, the police take the working class Jhumpa and the middle class brothers to a desolate, abandoned building known to locals as "The Cursed Manor." Its name proves prophetic as faith leads the brothers to end up on the run with Jhumpa. Video of the brothers being questioned by police has circulated on social media, leading the local police to believe they're the ones responsible for the abduction of the child, one of several that have occurred in the area in recent months. To clear their name, the brothers must work with Jhumpa to find the true culprit.

Stolen review

The expected culture clash is blurred by the fact that Raman and Gautam are estranged to a degree. While Raman wants to help Jhumpa because he believes it's the right thing to do, his brother only wants to save his own skin. Things are further muddied by suggestions that Jhumpa may not be all she claims to be, and that the child snatched from her arms may not have actually been her own.

The bickering inside Gautam's SUV is offset by the external threat of an angry mob that attacks the trio in set-pieces that wouldn't be out of place in a Mad Max movie. As George Miller did with the first entry in his franchise, Tejpal gets great value from a limited budget, creating tense, adrenalised sequences that suggest Hollywood may come calling in the near future if his film attracts enough western attention. Drones follow the SUV through cramped alleyways and over sand dunes as hordes of angry locals on bikes give pursuit, and our initial disdain for Gautam gives way to our primal fear of being fingered for a crime we didn't commit.

Stolen review

The final act sees the trio hide out in a nearby village, essentially enemy territory. While Jhumpa heads off to find the stolen infant, axe in hand, the brothers trade their western clothes for local garb in an attempt to evade their pursuers. It's probably no coincidence that the more of his western finery he sheds (beginning with his watch, then a jacket and ultimately his entire suit), the more human Gautam becomes. By the end, bloodied and muddied in a ragged kurta, Gautam is indistinguishable from the people he looks down upon.

With Tejpal making his point in such visual terms, some of the film's blunt dialogue comes off as redundant. Anyone with a pair of working eyes will figure out the message Stolen is proffering, but the script occasionally insists on spelling it out in the verbal interactions of its central trio. But while the writing is rough around the edges (some of this may be down to translation), Tejpal's filmmaking is tense and enthralling. It's not always a smooth blend, but Stolen is a rare movie that combines righteous social rage with exhilarating thrills.

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