I already posted my spoiler-free review, and I was going to put up a spoiler one, but why bother? I might as well just sprint through a summary, nothing much happened in this film so I’m not going to have much to say.
We open in a dimly lit storage room where a figure is striding in towards another figure seated at the end of the room. The subtitles mess up and say that the seated figure asks “Are you ready?” when he really says “Are you sure?” Also, this should be a very dramatic opening, with all the low-angle shots and hidden faces and stuff, but somehow everything is just slightly off and it fails to land in the right way. Also, it is so dimly lit that I’m not clear who is talking and when. This level of directing competence carries through out the film.
Manoj, I guess, is the guy who just came in. I think I am supposed to immediately go “Oh right! Manoj, who wore a wire and conducted a sting operation on match fixing!” But I don’t, and the director never makes clear what is going on for like another hour, so I was guessing for much of this opening sequence. This is him getting wired up, saying he definitely wants to do this, then going out and talking a bunch of people who spread rumors about taking money to fix matches, and name Azhar. It is, again, somehow both confusing and dull.
Meanwhile, Emraan Hashmi is going into a fancy hotel. He is greeted by cheering fans, then goes inside and chats with his old teammates who have all moved on to other careers while he is still playing. Then press conference, in the middle of which, someone taps him on the shoulder and says he has to go meet with “the President” RIGHT NOW. I think, “Wait, Manmohan Singh got involved in Cricket disputes?”, but I guess they mean the president of the Cricket Association. Would he really need to meet with the President so urgently that he has to be pulled out of a press conference?
(He has to see Emraan Hashmi RIGHT NOW!)
Oh, and then he goes into a room with a bunch of faceless guys at a table who fire him and tell him he can never play Cricket again, “lifetime ban”. Emraan does a good job with this scene, being convincingly shocked and angry and upset. But it would have landed a whole lot better if we’d known his character for more than 5 minutes at this point! Come on, director guy! Save this scene for the end of the film!
And then, newspaper montage! Always fun. Emraan/Azhar is burned in effigy, headlines everywhere, TV news reporting that he met with a bookie in London (Hey! It’s the head of ISI from Bajrangi Bhaijaan! He’s come down in the world), and then threw 3 games, India vs. Sri Lanka, India vs. Some Country I Don’t Remember, and India vs. Pakistan.
After our montage time-pass, Emraan is walking into the same fancy hotel, only this time the valet doesn’t salute him. Well, he does, then he sees who it is, does a dramatic double-take, and ostentatiously lowers his hand and walks away. It’s like silent film acting level.
Emraan is voice-overing that he has come to meet his oldest friend, the one man he can trust, and it’s Kunal Roy Kapoor! Great decision to cast Kunal, he always manages to make whatever he is doing entertaining. Terrible decision to have Emraan do voice-overs, the movie would work so much better if he was more of an enigma.
Emraan greets Kunal, says he has decided to fight his case, Kunal is all for it but doesn’t want to be his lawyer. Emraan telegraphs “hurt feelings!” and stomps out. Kunal follows him to give him the cell phone he forgot, and on the way out bumps into another lawyer who mentions he just offered to take Emraan’s case for the publicity, but Emraan turned him down. Kunal realizes that Emraan doesn’t just want to fight the case, he wants to fight with someone who actually believes in his innocence. Kunal is touched! And chases Emraan down to the garage and says he’ll take the case.
Wait, why is Emraan in the garage? Didn’t he leave his car by the valet? Did they park if for him in the garage? I thought the valet hated him? Is there a bomb in the car?
Right, so, Emraan says if he is going to take the case, he has to know the whole story, not just what everyone knows, “Worships Allah/One God, had two wives, hit 3 centuries in his first 3 games.” Okay, that’s a good line. And then it gets bad again, ka-thunk, because we are dropped right into his birth. No cool Bhaag Milkha Bhaag type non-sequential timeline here! We’re going to start at birth and go straight through!
(Although there is a nice happy young love song that is almost as good as the one in BMB)
He was born, his loving grandfather named him Azhar and vowed that the baby will bring honor to their “community”. And then his grandfather gave him his first bat and, when he was losing a neighborhood Cricket game, told him not to yell about it, but to “let your bat do the talking”. And from then on, I guess he was an awesome Cricket player? One comment from Grandpa is enough to teach him everything he needed to know about the game?
Years later, he is all excited about packing up to go to the National trials, when he learns that Grandpa is sick. Grandpa, dying, makes Emraan promise to play 100 test matches. And then dies. Grandpa really has a one-track mind, doesn’t he?
But wait, he’s not dead yet, not until Emraan enters the locker room in Bombay to have his friend/teammates look all uncomfortable and break the news. Which somehow arrived by telegraph and was delivered to the locker room at large? Aren’t you supposed to give those messages only to certain people?
And that’s just part of it, this whole thing is the strangest combination of scenes! For one thing, he is in the same outfit when he enters the locker room as he was wearing at his grandfather’s deathbed. So, he traveled from Hyderabad aaaallllllllll the way to Bombay in cricket whites? And carrying his bat? And if that is the case, why do they need a locker room anyway? Actually, why are they all in the locker room, if they are all standing around fully dressed, and arrived that way? I mean, I know why, the director thinks if he isn’t hitting us over the head with a cricket bat, so to speak, we will forget whose biopic we are watching. But visiting your dying Grandpa in full cricket clothes, flinging your bat around on his bed, that might be going a bit too far.
Oh, and then Emraan goes out and plays terribly, so much that they aren’t going to allow him on the team, until his buddy (how do they know each other already? Is it that we are supposed to know the real life connection between them already, or that the director couldn’t be bothered with a backstory?) tells the judges that his grandfather just died, and yet he is still playing! Oh, and then someone heckles him, and he flashes back to that scene we saw like 5 minutes earlier when his grandfather told him to let his bat do the talking. And then he hits a ball really really far!!!!
And, montage! He hits a lot of balls! In an especially good fashion! And also catches them! And there is a cool moment when he is talking with a batter for the Pakistani team, and the batter says that he has to win, because Allah loves him and it is a Friday. And Emraan says “Remember, my name is Mohammed. Allah loves me more than anyone.” And then he catches a ball by jumping really high! And India beats Pakistan!
Meanwhile, in the present day, Emraan is talking with Lawyer Kunal about his case, and striking off “both his wives” from the witness list (they are really enjoying the shock value of that “both my wives” thing). And Kunal is irked that all the good witnesses are unavailable, especially since he just learned they will be fighting the case against Lara Dutta, a spectacular hotshot lawyer from London. Can London lawyers just up and fight cases in India? I guess they can in this universe, later they also take a precedent citation from a Canadian court!
(I really liked her in this movie. I really liked everyone in this movie. I don’t care what you say, it was really good!)
Lara is introduced snapping “shut up!” at someone at a table. And then expositioning that she is all mad about the cheating scandal and how it was investigated, and her case is horrible, but she is going to try one witness, the person most wronged by Emraan……..His Wife!!!
And here’s sweet little Prachi, looking nervous and traditionally Muslim. Like, her living room is straight out of an old school Muslim social, she’s got the scarf over her head, whole thing. And, being a good traditional woman, she refuses to testify against Emraan. Because he is the father of her children (these children, by the way, will never be seen again and barely referenced until the end of the film. Either the director was being nice and respecting their privacy, or he forgot about them).
After sending Lara Dutta on her cold career woman way, Prachi picks up the phone to call Emraan, he picks it up in Bombay, listens while she says nothing, and then hangs up. Lawyer Kunal asks he it was, Emraan says “Prachi. I even know her silences.” Awwww! What a cute couple! Why would they ever break up?
(Look how cute!)
And then, even cuter, we get to see their courtship. Emraan is home, lounging around in his cricket outfit, like you do, and his Mom is nagging him about getting married. He tries to avoid it, but gets guilted into meeting a girl. He prepares with young lawyer Kunal, practicing his lines because he is so shy. He memorizes the compliment “your hair is lovely, and so are your earrings”.
And then he is standing awkwardly with Prachi, trying not to blink, because that was Kunal’s other love-making tip. Prachi asks if there is something wrong with his eyes, and he finally blurts out his compliment. Only for her to show that she isn’t wearing earrings. It’s super cute! Their mothers are observing and also find it super cute. And point out that both of them are very shy, but surely they will be able to talk after a few more meetings.
The cuteness continues, and they are not able to talk. Even after several meetings, they just sit bolt upright next to each other. But then he accidentally grabs her hand, when her little siblings startle them. He apologizes, and she puts her hand down between them and tells him “you can put it back.” So, they hold hands, and then get married, and love song!
This couple is awesome! They should never break up! But of course, they do. Back in the present day, Emraan announces there is one person who can go on the witness list, the one man who always promised to stand by him! It’s Akshay Kumar! Please say it’s Akshay Kumar! He was thanked in the opening credits, maybe he will show up playing himself!
Emraan and Kunal are striding down a hallway, to talk to potentially Akshay Kumar, when Emraan notices a phone randomly in the middle of the hall and flashes back again, to talking to Prachi on this phone years ago, being all nervous because he was called in to talk to the President (Sonia Gandhi! No, it’s the Cricket Association president again) and thinks he is going to get fired. And what will they do for money, with the kid’s school fees and all? Hey! The kids! Mention 2 out of 3! Only one left!
(She seems like she would enjoy talking with Emraan)
But, of course, when he goes to meet the President, all nervous and shy, it’s to make him Captain! How exciting! And I just had to look up and see if he replaced Tiger (Saif’s Dad) or someone else. It was someone else, there were like 6 guys between them. But, the President challenges him as to whether he can order people around on the field as captain, or if his shyness will prevent him? And we cut straight from a test shout of “Manoj!” in the empty field, to a real shout of it in a locker room. Okay, that edit was cool. That one edit out of the entire film up to now.
(Saif’s Dad was kind of hot, right? At least, that’s what Saif’s Mom is thinking here)
This scene here is also kind of cool. Or at least interesting. It is positing that Emraan/Azhar was never as close to his teammates, because he was captain so long, stuck in a middle-management position of always criticizing them but never allowed to compliment. And then at the end, some guy comes in and reminds Emraan that he doesn’t need to make these 11 guys happy, he needs to spend more time worrying about the 3 billion people who are counting on him back home. And that some guy is now the head of the Cricket association? Something fancy anyway. And Emraan is trying to see him, to call in his promise to “always be there for you, whenever you feel alone”, only now he isn’t “there for him” and sends his lackey to turn away Emraan and lawyer Kunal. So, gosh-darn it, it wasn’t Akshay Kumar after all! You know if Akshay promised to “always be there for you”, he really would be! Well, unless you are one of his many many many many many girlfriends.
Meanwhile, back in London, Lara Dutta has tracked down the Bookie who broke the story in his hide-out. He is going by the name “Shawn”. I don’t know why, but my friend and I both found this hilarious and started cracking up every time another character called him that. Oh, and he tells Lara Dutta that he met Azhar twice and gave him 10 crore rupees to throw the game.
And then flashback! He walks us through the whole thing, that he was “given the opportunity” by some mysterious figure (Dawood Ibrahim? Or does he just do IPL?) to make a lot of money by fixing a match. He found an in, through a trainer who owed a lot of money at the track. That trainer introduced him to Emraan, who is looking stressed and nervous and kind of sweaty and out of it in his hotel room. He shakes hands with “Shawn” (ha!), but says he can’t talk now, another time. And then it is another time, and they are in the locker room, and “Shawn” offers him ten crore rupees to throw the match, pointing out that his career is winding down, what will his family live on, it’s just a little thing and it could set him up for life. And finally, Emraan throws his bat on top of the bag of money, and shakes hands with “Shawn”! Interval!
Whaaaaa? So many questions! First, when did they stop wearing the cricket whites? I liked those. These new things look like toddler play clothes. Secondly, how did “Shawn” manage to sneak an enormous duffel bag of money into the locker room? Thirdly, how did Emraan sneak it out? Oh, and also, IS EMRAAN GUILTY?!?!?
Intermission over, we are back to Emraan and Kunal talking. Or maybe first we go into the courtroom? I don’t remember, let’s start with court. It is a tiny tiny room, my friend swears it is the exact same set they used for Waqt in 1965. Lara Dutta presents her first evidence, a tape of Emraan doing really terribly in one of the matches. And Kunal presents his evidence, a close up tape from the same match, showing that Emraan was trying his best, the calls just went against him. So how could he have been throwing the match, if he was trying his best?
Meanwhile, I am thinking about the poor clerk. See, the Judge is up there on the bench inside his Judge’s cage railing thing, and the poor clerk is sitting right below, trying to take notes. But he also has to hand up all the briefs and papers and things the lawyers want the judge to see. So he has to stop typing, jump up on his tippy-toes, and reeeaaaaach over the railing to drop the papers in front of the judge. There has got to be a better system for this! At the very least, get this man a stool!
First day in court over, I think, that’s when Kunal and Emraan have their fight, about how it isn’t about the matches, it’s about one thing, “Sangeeta”. And that’s when Emraan storms out and refuses to talk anymore and storms into another flashback.
Emraan and the team are hanging out at a pool at a hotel in London, when his horndog friend (I think I read the guy this is based on in real life is talking about suing? Because he doesn’t like being made out to be such a playboy) starts talking about the beautiful famous actress, Sangeeta, who is staying there as well. Really? Sangeeta? I mean, she worked, her filmography is decent, but I’m not seeing her as quite at the “one name and we all know who you are talking about” level. Unless you describe her as “Salman Khan’s ex, Sangeeta.” But definitely not “famous actress, Sangeeta.” And there is a bit of byplay where the horndog friend is lusting after Sangeeta, and Emraan points out that she is all Western and loose, the real Indian ideal should be the other woman at the pool, in a nice sari. Horndog friend disagrees, and says he will be spending time with Sangeeta instead of doing physio therapy like his wife thinks.
And then there is a “funny” scene where Emraan is all oiled up for physical therapy, when horndog’s wife starts banging on the door, asking to be let in. Emraan buys a few minutes, but needs to get his friend from Sangeeta’s room and down to the lobby immediately. So he grabs a shirt, puts it on over his oil, and dashes up to Sangeeta’s room to bang on the door.????? Does this hotel not have telephones in the rooms? Also, why the shirt over the oil? This is a question for both the character and the director. Does the director think I will find a weird oiled up Emraan with funky make-up attractive? Because I don’t! I want my nice normal stubbly Emraan!
Sangeeta/Nargis answers the door and procedes to act TERRIBLY! Meaning both that she is a bad actress, and that she is being a bad person. I think maybe it’s supposed to be some sort of “ha-ha, the cool glamorous woman got the best of the frumpled frazzled man” think like in The Lady Eve, but Nargis is not Barbara Stanwyck and Emraan is not Henry Fonda, so it just comes off like she is being a jerk and he is being an idiot. Oh, and of course, the horndog wasn’t even in her room, he was at a room down the hall with the sari-clad woman, so look how our assumptions are being challenged! Except not, because western-dressing but “pure” Nargis is going to be sleeping with married man Emraan in like a minute.
(The want it to be this, but it’s not)
Some time shortly afterward, Nargis and Emraan are shooting an ad together, her as a “famous” star and him as a famous athlete. They are being all snitty and obnoxious to each other, and Emraan is making snide remarks about how easy it is to be an actress, just keep putting on make-up! But then they finish the ad, the director yells cut, and Nargis is immediately surrounded by reporters asking her about her “boyfriend” and their “break-up.” Veeeeeeery smart, filmmakers! Say “boyfriend” not “Salman”, and maybe he won’t track you down and kill you! Also, while I find it completely unrealistic that the second the cameras stop rolling, hordes of reporters appear on the soundstage out of nowhere, I find it completely realistic that they would only want to ask Sangeeta/Nargis about Salman, not like her own career. Oh, and Nargis immediately and completely unrealistically bursts into tears. It was so bad, I thought maybe it was a character thing, like her character was supposed to be faking it, that’s why it looked so fake. But, nope! That’s just Nargis Fakhri, giving us the absolute limits of her histrionic abilities!
Emraan finds it more sympathetic than me, and arranges for the director to do another take, which means quiet on set and the reporters have to crawl back into their burrows. But then instead of doing the ad, Emraan grabs Nargis by the arm and drags her off the set out a side door into an alley! How heroic! The reporters chase them? Or something? So they have to hide in a tiny little doorway, scrunched together, Nargis breaks into “tears” again, Emraan holds her, then she pulls away and says “You’ve given your wife your name, don’t betray her.” Because that’s what I always say to random strangers I’ve just met and “cried” on!
Speaking of his wife, let’s check in with her! Back in Hyderabad (I think? Right? She’s supposed to never have left Hyderabad?) he is all quiet and awkward with her. He tries to reach out and invites her to go to a movie with him, but wouldn’t you know it, she takes him to a Nargis movie! And then when they are watching TV together, a Nargis song comes on! Well, that’s it! No hope for it, he HAS to have an affair, right? So he sends a roomful of flowers to Nargis, and then when he sees her talking/flirting with horndog teammate at a party, he chases her out of the room. And then bangs on her door and talks about how it’s fate, why resist it, he can’t stop thinking about her, etc. etc. Romantic, or abusive? Who can tell! And, love song! In London, City of Sin. Unlike his sweet innocent first love song in Hyderabad.
But now his life is so complicated! He’s got the game and the girl and the wife, what to do! Oh, and “Fandust” (Ha!) magazine comes out with an expose about the affair. Nargis breaks if off with him and as a last loving gesture, reaches out to pop the color of his shirt. Meanwhile, back in Hyderabad, at a completely silent dinner with Prachi, she reaches out to smooth down the collar. Oh oh! I get it! His wife doesn’t want him to be himself, but Nargis understands him! Except from what we’ve seen, the relationship with the wife is a lot deeper than the Nargis one. Oh well, I guess the scriptwriters did the best they could.
Emraan keeps trying to talk to his wife, but she keeps putting him off. Finally, he leaves for the next series without talking to her, and when he gets his big trophy as “man of the match”, he dedicates it to Nargis! On live TV! Oh Prachi.
Back in the present day, we have now leaped 8 years into the future, his court case has been dragging out this whole time. Lara Dutta is now interviewing his former teammate “Manoj”, the one who did the sting operation. Manoj is giving his version of one of the losing matches, saying that they were already behind, and Emraan ordered him to “go slow”, so at least he could get to a century, even if the team as a whole would lose. In flashback, we see Emraan yelling at everyone in the locker room, especially humiliating Manoj, after that match. Ah! Seeds of resentment! No one could appreciate Emraan’s nobility, that’s why they are dragging his name through the mud now.
But, what about that Interval scene? What’s up with that? This is the one bit where I thought the intercutting actually worked a little. Lawyer Kunal has gotten them one more hearing day before the judge gives his decision. And Kunal is buckling down and flipping through files and making time lines and all sorts of things! It would be impressive, except what has he been doing for the past 8 years? We see him cut the files open! He hasn’t even looked at them before!
And then his defense, I’m guessing, is the same defense used in real life. That the investigation was flawed, there was confirmation bias, no outside body ever looked at the situation, it’s not enough evidence to ban Emraan for life. Which, sure, this is a reasonable defense. But it’s not usually the thing you pull out at the last minute on the last day in court. It’s more the thing you boringly build over several years/months.
What’s exciting is that the cross-questioning of Lara (because, for dramatic purposes, they make her take the stand and testify for the other side) is intercut with the pivital first match, the one Emraan took all that money for beforehand. Just as the evidence is getting pulled apart in real life, it’s building up in the flashback. He left in bad players, he traded out good players, he missed catching balls.
Or did he? Because “Shawn” (Ha!) and the evil shadowy figure he is working for (Dawood?) are watching and see Sachin, “the new boy”, miss. They assume it is part of the fix, but of course we the film audience know it isn’t, because Sachin is a perfect human being who of course would never cheat. So, what’s really going on?
“Shawn” keeps calling Emraan on the untraceable cell he gave him (in 1996?), and Emraan keeps giving status updates like he’s working with him. But then the score looks really bad, and Emraan has to leave the sidelines to come in and play. “Shawn” gets excited, bets more money over his phone, promises the shadowy figure that this is when their gamble will really pay off.
Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, there is a gasp and a dramatic entrance! Emraan slowly turns to look, and it’s Akshay Kumar!!! No, it isn’t, but wouldn’t that have been great? It’s actually Nargis and Prachi and two teenage boys. Oh right, his sons! Who were last mentioned a good 2 hours ago. Isn’t that nice, both his wives are here for him. Akshay Kumar would have been better, but this is nice too. They sit in the front row together to support him.
(Especially Akshay in his fake stripper cricket uniform)
And, back to the flashback! Emraan walks out to the “pitch” (yes? pitch?), and hits the ball really hard! And then does it again and again! And “Shawn” in the stands is in despair! And the Indian fans are cheering (including a Sikh wearing a orange, green, and white turban which looks really cool)! INDIA WINS!!!! YAAAAAY! What, why did people even think this match was rigged? I don’t get it.
Game over, “Shawn” calls Emraan on the phone, all angry. And Emraan explains his clever plan! He took the money, so Shawn wouldn’t look for anyone else on the team to pay-off. But Emraan has sent it all back to him now, and he never wants to talk to him again. And then Emraan throws the cell phone in the trash. Emraan! NO! It’s 1996! That’s like a magical device from the future! You should reverse engineer it and make millions!
In the present day, the judge rules for Emraan! Yay! He goes over and hugs his sons, and then Prachi, and then Nargis. And then leaves the court to find everyone cheering outside! Yay Emraan! And he gives a statement that he has fulfilled his grandfather’s wish of playing 100 test matches! Because this court case was his 100th match. Oooo. Deep.