In Dipesh Jain’s “Gali Guleiyan” (Mazes), Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee) roams aimlessly in Delhi’s labyrinthine alleys. A recluse with a troubled mind, our protagonist is treated with suspicion by the neighbourhood, and for good reason. He peers into houses as he walks by, and spies on his neighbours by setting up surveillance cameras.
But his peeping Tom habit takes a serious turn when he hears a young boy being beaten up by his father. Khuddoos is shaken, and searches for the boy all over the dusty, claustrophobic lanes, but fails to find him.
The parallel track in the film is that of Idu (Om Singh), the pre-teen whose screams Khuddoos can hear across his walls as his father hits him. It is in Idu’s track that the film’s shortcomings really start to show. Jain oscillates between making an abstract, atmospheric film about loneliness and the urge to spell out every single theme in the story.
The underlying story of Idu’s struggle to escape the violence and dysfunction in his house is underlined several times by dialogue. The big reveal in the film is hardly that, and Jain, who also wrote the script, chose to focus on furthering the supposed mystery - which is a weak plot point any way - rather than focusing on the strengths of the film.
One of those strengths is the lanes of Old Delhi, where the film is based and where cinematographer Kai Miedendrop’s camera captures every grimy detail, including the overhead wires and the decrepit buildings. It is a wonderful backdrop for Manoj Bajpayee to fully immerse himself in his character. He is a perfect fit for Khuddoos, bringing the character’s loneliness and trauma to the fore with a pathos few other actors can manage. Jain gets the atmospherics right and the crumbling building where his protagonist stays is a wonderful metaphor for his inability to escape the harsh reality of his life.
“Gali Guleiyan” is notable for many small things that it gets right, but the sum of all its part doesn’t add up.