Directed by Ranjan Nitin Shendre | Reviewed by Rich Monetti
Halaal Dabba is a true crime documentary that examines the horrific atrocity committed by one Santosh Mane. A bus driver in India, the state transport employee stole a bus and rampaged through the streets of Pune. When Mane was done, he killed nine people and put 37 in the hospital. A harrowing account, the retelling sends chills, but the 21 minute short leaves the viewer with much unanswered. Not necessarily a compelling reason to watch, Rajan Nitin
Shendre still has good reason to leave us in a bit of a lurch. Unable to be helped, his send off is determined to let us know that this probably won’t be the last time we hear from the filmmaker on the subject.
The film begins by questioning why Mane’s sentence of death was commuted and implies that forces unaccounted for coalesced to deny justice. “What I found will absolutely shock you,” the director declares.
So the outrage queued up, Shendre doesn’t hesitate to unveil exactly why we should be so appalled. News reports, scenes of the carnage and grieving families, the senselessness is profound.
But despite the unfathomable events, Shendre continually reminds us that January 25, 2012 was a day just like any other. Moving to present day to make the point, people are calmly loading up and disembarking, and the buses make their way for the city landscape without fanfare.
The spark that lit the city ablaze is pretty easy to overlook too. “Mane requested to change his shift from a night tour duty to single day duty. When his request was denied, Mane just quietly walked out of the supervisor’s office.”
The moment dramatized, there’s not much to see, and Shendre’s soothing narration remains grounded. Even the words that signal the deadly sea change don’t stand out. “Who knew that something switched in Mane’s mind.”
Still, the horror is ever present and hangs over the documentation. The descent begins by switching to black and white and framing Mane’s mind in similar terms. So slighted by the system, Mane’s extreme response is driven by a warped sense of right and wrong. Obviously on the edge, the camera points skyward through the trees and rotates, and the bus interior superimposed, we understand that the perpetrator’s mind is about to spin out of control.
The return to color by Shendre puts us back on normal everyday footing nonetheless and taking a ST bus along the exact unremarkable route piles on the disbelief that something like this could happen.
Reality had to reign, though. So we shudder as the short biographies and the eye witness accounts overwhelm. Of course, the back and forth between sanity and madness must give way to the ultimate unraveling, which carries the same conflicting narrative.
In other words, the consequences for Mane and a thorough investigation of the event should have been as straightforward as any ordinary afternoon. But like the man’s unhinged mind, forces unseen have stepped in.
Plenty of questions to be answered, Shendre really had no choice but to take the initiative in two steps. Do the asking and hope that the scales can then be tipped toward a real conclusion.
Rich Monetti was born in the Bronx and grew up in Somers, New York. He went onto study Computer Science and Math at Plattsburgh State. But after about a decade in the field, he discovered that writing was his real passion. He’s been a freelancer since 2003 and is always looking for the next story. Rich also dabbles with screenwriting and stays active by playing softball and volleyball.