I was thinking I would do a full summary for this film, like I usually do for a major release. But then I started thinking about it, and the whole movie is basically exposition. There isn’t nearly as much to talk about as usual in terms of visuals or dialogue or character moments. So I’m going to skip through it pretty quick and just lay out what happened. If you don’t want to bother seeing the movie, but are curious about how the plot plays out, you are in the right place! (if you just want a regular review, look at my first Rustom post)
We open with Bombay in 1959 (little comment in the voice over about how it was “then called Bombay”, to get around any present day pro-Mumbai sentiments). Explanation that the British influence was still strong, while Raj Kapoor’s films were running successfully in the cinemas. And the Indian Navy was the pride of the seas. Shot of a huge boat ship thing with little people in white uniforms running around on it.
Little white uniform person hands an order to another white uniform person, who calls for the XO to come to the bridge. And huge dramatic slow motion shot!!! Akshay slowly opens a hatch and comes out, straightening himself and his hat, and is momentarily silhouetted against the setting sun and the Indian flag, in his full white uniform. Yes, this is definitely an Independence Day release.
He goes to the bridge, is ordered to plot a path direct to Bombay, whips out his little straight edge and makes marks on the map, then hands it over to the navigator while he makes an announcement to the men that they are skipping the planned stop over, meaning they will be home in Bombay five days early! General celebration occurs.
Akshay goes back to his bunk and pulls out a pretty black and white photo of Ileana and gazes at it. Meanwhile, Ileana is gazing at herself in the mirror. She is wearing a blue dress with white polka dots and a big poofed out skirt. I mention it, because it is the most practical outfit she will wear for the rest of the film. She looks conflicted, especially when the elderly maid comes in to tell her that “he” is here to pick her up. She leaves with “him”, while in his bunkbed Akshay is still looking at her picture and remembering their love affair.
This is the one real song of the film, and I am extremely impressed with its construction. It manages to wordlessly convey all the important parts of their relationship. They met at a party where most of the people were Indian, but everyone was wearing European clothes, so clearly at an overseas posting. They noticed each other and smiled at each other. At some point later, she wakes up in the middle of the night to see him in civilian clothes standing outside, pointing to a heart he has drawn in the snow on the roof of a car. She comes down and smiles while he extravagantly kneels before her. They both look at a gravestone while she is in black, crying, and reaches for his hand. They ride a motorcycle together and laugh. He comes back home in uniform bringing her flowers. And then she waves good-bye again as he gets on a boat. So, we quickly learn that they met overseas, were she was raised. They fell in love right away, but he took charge from the start, making the big gestures while she laughed. Her parents died and she went straight from their house into Akshay’s. They were extravagantly happy together, her always following his lead, as you would expect from a much younger bride.
This is what I talked about in my other review, how nicely the age difference in the casting sort of created a background for their relationship. Ileana comes off as so young and vulnerable and inexperienced. Akshay seems like possibly the first man she has, not just kissed, but even so much as spoken to romantically. And Akshay comes off as confident, experienced, but as passionate as a boy when he is with her. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the Desdemona-Othello relationship in Omkara. A woman so innocent and a man so cynical, and yet so in love. Only, Akshay doesn’t have all the caste-race hangups that Omkara/ Othello does, so he is a bit better able to handle the love story. Although, as we will see, his Iago is much more noxious.
The love song goes right into Akshay leaping off the boat in the “present” in Bombay, buying some flowers on the street, and happily dashing up the stairs to his AWESOME APARTMENT!!! Oh my gosh, I would move into this place in a heartbeat! Cool green walls, amazing period 50s style yellow faux-leather furniture, lovely lace curtains everywhere, it is just a dream.
Oh, but Akshay still isn’t happy, because Ileana isn’t there. Akshay! Just relax and enjoy the decor!! He is even more unhappy when he learns she hasn’t been home since the previous afternoon. He calls her friend, Esha Gupta, to find out where she is and Esha says she hasn’t been with her. And then Esha tries to correct herself before he hangs up, which just makes it worse. He goes into the bathroom and splashes his face. Then he starts methodically looking through her room, seeing flowers with “Waiting -V” written on the note, and finding a packet of love letters tied with a ribbon in her closet. Finally, he sweeps all the photos, and vase of a shelf in anger, but controls himself when the maid comes in to see what is wrong. He goes out past her, and drives through very very bad rear projection to part outside a house and see Ileana, in a sari, on a terrace, looking somewhat distressed, until evil Arjan Bajwa comes out in a slimy red silk bathrobe to slide his arms around her and gently pull her back into the room. Akshay goes back home, to sit in his amazing living room, and read love letters that he throws on the floor around his chair.
Ileana comes home, looking worn out. I was impressed by how just her posture in this scene tells you she is miserable, her shoulders are sagging ever so slightly and there is no spring in her step. Oh, and she has a bruise on her forehead. She sees Akshay waiting for her, and starts to say “Let me explain”. And Akshay says “I want no explanations from you”. Only he delivers the line juuuuust right, with the barest hit of an emphasis that somehow conveys to the audience, but not to Ileana, that he wants Arjan Bajwa to explain, not her.
And then Akshay does the Nanavati thing. Goes to his ship and insists on signing out his gun. Goes to Arjan’s office (a car dealership) and chats with his receptionist when he isn’t there. Then goes to the house and offers a polite greeting to the servant, before going upstairs to see Arjan in his bedroom. We see the servant getting the breakfast tray ready, when he hears a shot, and rushes upstairs to see Arjan lying (laying?) on the floor, three shots in his chest, wearing nothing but a towel.
(Might as well put the real Nanavati photos here, so you can picture them)
And, cut! Straight to a police station! I thought we were going to see Akshay arrested or something, but no, it is Pawan Malhotra as the police inspector talking to a bunch of constables who clearly went for a joyride in their jeep the night before. He easily cuts through the lies by simple asking them each to right down a separate account of the “flat tire” that delayed them. Of course, they don’t have their story straight, and break immediately. He assigns them a week without pay, and then tells his assistant that he is looking forward to his vacation. Oh ho! I know what that means! I have seen a cop movie before! Sure enough, as soon he says “vacation”, Akshay walks in the door, puts his gun down on the desk, and turns himself in.
Meanwhile, Ileana and Esha are both getting phone calls (who from?) with the news and looking shaken. Ileana is swanning around in a bikini, but she takes the time to change into a fancy green silk dress before running over to Arjan Bajwa’s house and bursting into the crime scene. She asks who is in charge, Pawan gives her a long look, then says he is. She says “I want Akshay arrested NOW!”
Back at the jail, Pawan is informed that Ileana has been waiting for hours, but Akshay refuses to see her. He goes to talk to Akshay (who is still in full uniform? And it’s perfectly clean? Even in a dusty stone jail cell?) and ask him to see Ileana, Akshay refuses. And Ileana leaves, and again the way her shoulders sag as she walks out is just perfect, tells you everything about how depressed she is feeling.
Meanwhile, one of the constables has called Kumud Mishra, cheerful mustacheoed newspaper publisher with a Parsi name, to tell him the news. Mishra is delighted! He rushes over to his wall of framed front pages, looking at all the past Bombay disasters, including that boat explosion with the gold on it that I have heard about before, listing off how many dead, and then how many copies sold. And then he immediately starts printing up copies of papers with Akshay’s photo and all the lurid details.
(the real editor, RK Naranjia, who ran the newspaper The Blitz. He looks like a nice guy, doesn’t he?)
Back with Pawan, he is interviewing all the witnesses. They do this cool thing in this scene, where it alternates between people, but they are in alternating chairs in front of his desk. So we will see one person answer, then go back to Pawan asking the next question, but looking at the other chair, so we know he is asking someone new. We get the general details, Ileana was going around with Arjan Bajwa, Akshay came home early, he went off looking for them. Ileana herself refuses to give details, just asks if she can go home now.
And then Pawan goes to Akshay, to ask how he met Arjan. Akshay is completely open about it, says it was at a birthday party for his superior officer. And, flashback! Akshay and Ileana are dancing while a pretty duet love song plays in the background. It looks like your standard non-diegetic music, playing in their heads and being told through their eyes.
But then his boss cuts in on them, and we see that it is a band playing the song with a male and female singer sharing a microphone. Cool! And, while Akshay is watching them dance, Arjan comes up and introduces himself, and his sister Esha, to Akshay and Ileana. He is clearly a good friend of Akshay’s boss, and a confident man about town type. And, Akshay explains in the “present”, they became good friends, the four of them, him, Ileana, Esha, and Arjan.
Meanwhile, Esha is meeting with a lawyer, Sachin Khedekar, the prosecutor, telling him that she wants Akshay convicted, no matter what! And, I believe, leaning on him a little since he is a fellow Sindhi. Meanwhile, Kumud is meeting with the judge, a fellow Parsi. He has come in full Parsi gear, and mentions knowing him from “community” events, clearly leaning on that. And he asks the judge to be sure to assign a good lawyer to Akshay, because he is one of “us”. I don’t quite follow the next bit, the judge seems to be resisting a bit at first, indicating that he will try to stay objective, but also responding slightly to Kumud’s point that the Sindhi community is already mobilizing. And he also, if I understood this right, encourages Kumud to keep up his work in the papers supporting Akshay. And then at the end, he asks Kumud if he took a cab there, and if he paid? And Kumud just chuckles in response. So, is that a joke about being stingy? Not paying the cab? Or is it a joke about Paris taxi drivers supporting their own and not charging? Or some other thing I am missing?
Akshay rejects the lawyer Kumud brings him, and the first day in court he speaks for himself, when his superior officer Parmeet Sethi (Kuljit!) asks that he be handed over to the navy for supervision instead of staying in jail. Akshay politely requests that he remain in jail instead. Odd! It comes off to the public and the newspapers like he doesn’t want special treatment, but it also feels like there might be more happening.
Meanwhile, back on the boat ship thingy, the superior officer and his assistant are panicking about the “papers” that Akshay has, planning to send thugs into his house to search for them. No! Not the apartment! Anything but that! It’s so PRETTY!
And cut to Kumud talking to Ileana about possibly giving more interviews and information to the paper to help Akshay’s case, she is willing to do anything. I got all excited about the idea of Kumur fighting off armed attackers, but no, they just miss him, they are waiting in the car outfront, put stockings on their heads, and then burst in. Only, they use fishnet stockings, so I don’t think they are disguised at all? I understand it’s a cool period touch to use fishnet, but they did have nylon stockings in 1959, and those would actually hide your face.
(See?!?! Nylon! It was a thing!)
They threaten Ileana with a knife, blah blah blah. More importantly, the Apartment!!! They break glass, throw books around, and they may slit the couch cushions, I don’t know, I looked away because I couldn’t bare to see it.
Ileana goes right to jail to ask Akshay what to do (such a good wife!), and when he refuses her again, she asks if she can send him a note. The constable brings it to Akshay and he agrees to see her. She runs to him immediately, and tells him she loves him and just wants to die about betraying him. He resists, carefully holding his hands back in the military “at rest” posture, but finally he can’t take it and lets himself embrace her. Awwww!
Oh, and then she tells him the whole loooooooong story of what happened. He left for 6 months, she was so lonely she couldn’t take it, and a little angry because she had begged him not to go (does she not understand how the navy works?). Esha stayed close to her, and of course Arjan was there too. Then, on her birthday, Esha organized a party, only at the last minute she had to leave town, so it was just Ileana and Arjan and a bunch of people she didn’t know. Only, Arjan made it special anyway, getting everyone to applaud her and sing happy birthday, and even arranging for rose petals to fall on her from the ceiling. They started going around just the two of them. Until finally, one night, she got caught in the rain and tripped and twisted her ankle, and he carried her into the house and arranged her in bed and called the doctor. And then the “went too far”, and the next morning she felt terrible and left right away. But he kept sending flowers and love letters and pressuring her. The night before the murder, when Akshay saw them together, she was saying good-bye once and for all. Arjan responded by laughing at her, saying that it was just because Akshay was about to be home, and that he was going to tell Akshay if she didn’t. And that he had finally gotten one over on Akshay, Akshay had previously shown him the power of the Navy, now he was going to show Akshay the power of “money” and tell him how he “got” his wife. Ileana is furious and calls him dirt who is not worthy to even speak of Akshay. Arjan hits her and she falls on a chair, which is how she got the bruise. He also says at some point in this confrontation, that she was raised abroad but has turned out to be just another Indian wife. And then she went home and Akshay was there.
This is another “song” sequence (I can’t find a good video of it, probably because they were promoting the love story between Akshay and Ileana more than her affair). Not a true one, because it is all chopped up with dialogue bits. But it feels very similar to that one real song sequence where we say Akshay’s romance with Ileana, in that it conveys a lot of information very efficiently. Including some kind of subtle character stuff. We really get a sense of Ileana’s loneliness and helplessness in just a few scenes. I mean, not even having anyone besides Esha to help celebrate her birthday? That is LONELY. And her interactions with Arjan as they are falling in “love” paint a clear picture of a very young woman with no experience, and no way of telling the difference between sexual attraction and love. Arjan’s casual kindness, and the occasional flares of physical attraction she feels to him (shown very subtly through small moments of slow motion and close ups), feel like love to her. And we also see very clearly, just in her stiff posture and twisted up mouth, that she knows immediately after their one night together that it wasn’t love, it was just her first experience of sexual attraction with nothing deeper beneath it.
I guess all that must have all been clear in the version she told Akshay, because when she is all through, he doesn’t even have any questions about it, instead he just asks her more about the men who burst into the house. I have one question, however. We see that she has a fight at twilight with Arjan. And then leaves his house and walks all night, finally coming home to Akshay the next morning. But, the maid said that she was gone since the day before, and she was wearing a different outfit when we saw her leave the house. So, what happened the previous night? Was she with Esha and Esha lied about it? Did Ileana spend the night with Arjan the night before and then have the big fight the next night? Or, more likely, no one was proofreading the script and didn’t realize there was a flaw in the timeline. Actually, I think it is the moment when Akshay parks outside Arjan’s house and watches them from his car that was the last minute addition. Everything else works well for it being one night, Akshay arriving the next morning, finding the letters, and waiting when Ileana finally gets home.
Right, back to the film! First day in court, the newspapers are being hawked outside, Akshay arrives to a rain of rose petals from swooning women and supporters, and then gets inside and declares he will be defending himself. The judge asks if he is sure, and Akshay says he is, and he won’t appeal if there are any problems. Dun dun dun! And, Interval!
Back from Interval, Akshay repeats what he just said for those of us who left for the bathroom early, and the judge confirms it. And then I think there is a song montage thing? It’s Akshay in his jail cell sending out for papers and files and stuff, and Ileana dressing up in a gorgeous big fancy red dress, while the lyrics say, essentially, “Akshay-Rustom is awesome! The best! He knows and controls everything!”
Ileana is going to dinner with Purmeet Sethi (Kuljit!), in a big empty warehouse. She is all confident and charming and classy. This is one of those scenes that so impressed me. Most of the time, she is just sniffling and sobbing into a handkerchief with perfect mascara. But in this scene, and in the flashbacks, she plays unsure sad, happy, regretful, all sorts of other things. The only flaw is this strange chiffon panel in the front of the dress. It’s period appropriate and stuff, it’s just distracting to have this odd red overlay on bare skin. Oh, and the content of the dinner is Purmeet asking her for “papers”, pointing out that she will need the money, since Akshay is sure to divorce her. She goes along with it, and then in the end hands him an envelope saying that Akshay told her he would approach her, and told her to give him this. And she also puts in a very specific slam about how they aren’t silly spies to hide things in “Pumpkins”. Is the Alger Hiss case really that well-known in India? I mean, I don’t know if many Americans would even get that reference! And then she thanks him for the lovely dinner, and sweeps out. It’s a great “sweeping out” dress, very full skirt. Oh, and the envelope was a request for a ton of money (50 lakh?), because it said that was how much Arjan got, and Akshay wants no less. Wait, so Akshay’s a spy?!?! Except, no “?”, he was introduced against a backdrop of the setting sun and the Indian flag, he is clearly no spy and this is all a trick and we just have to wait until Akshay explains it all too us later. Really, if it weren’t for how well he was playing this role, I would find his character boringly perfect.
What Akshay does so well is convey the idea of a seething emotion that is being ruthlessly tamped down by his military training. It reminds me of that Astronaut story from America from a few years back. Do you remember this? It was a crazy story, a female astronaut was in love with a male colleague, and she drove cross country without stopping planning to kidnap and (maybe) kill the guy’s wife. What captured everyone’s imagination was this combination of calm planning and preparation, with a totally crazed-with-passion motivation. The explanation a lot of talking heads provided was that the astronaut training was so rigorous, even in a psychotic state, she was still able to think ahead and stay calm and plan. Which is what Akshay is conveying here, not that he doesn’t feel anything, but that he is able to put up a barrier between his emotions and his logic, just like the first time we saw him he was able to plot a new course for home at a moments notice, all without revealing his own feelings about getting home early.
Oh, and court case. It’s all kind of the same. The prosecution puts up a witness, Akshay proves they are lying, Kumud is thrown out of court and kept in a cell as punishment for hawking his newspapers right outside (and, on one day, arranging to have them handed to the jury as they arrive), Esha sits in the audience and seethes and occasionally pulls Sachin the prosecutor aside to yell at him.
The prosecutor is trying to establish that Akshay was crazed with anger, driving around trying to find Arjan and planning to kill him. Only, Akshay keeps proving that he was really calm and reasonable that day, chatted with the receptionist, insisted on signing out his gun, did not act like a guy planning a murder. Oh, and when Ileana is on the stand to prove motive, Akshay makes her go through the whole story again in court (quick flashback to the flashback song bits that we saw already), and then when she breaks down, the judge lets him help her back to her seat and offer her his handkerchief, while all the women in the audience sigh sentiment. I would like this movie a little more if there was some sort of wink to the audience that Akshay and Ileana were putting on a show here, because they knew how much the jury would like to see them being loving, but there is no wink and their love theme starts up, so I guess the characters are supposed to be sincerely overcome with emotion.
Esha also testifies and tries to make it look like Arjan was just giving in to Ileana’s flirtation, but then Akshay pulls out the love letters to show that Arjan was pressuring and pressuring her. Generally, the whole prosecution falls apart, at least the argument that Arjan was any kind of innocent, and that Akshay went there planning to kill him. Oh, and Akshay and Ileana’s maid testifies, and is awesome! Although she kind of damages his defense by arguing that if he killed the man sleeping with his wife, that was fine by her!
Meanwhile, Pawan the cop has flown to Delhi, because the testimony helped him put together that there was a gap in Akshay’s timeline for the morning. He finds out Akshay went to the post office, thanks to a stamp in his wallet that was only issued for the first time on the day of the murder (convenient!), and finds out Akshay called the ministry of Defense in Delhi. Pawan meets with the defense minister who hands him a tape of their phone call, in which he tried to calm Akshay down since Arjan was a mutual friend, and Akshay said he would “make [Arjan] pay” for what he had done. Pawan, of course, arrives with this evidence just as the trial is about to conclude. Although they do at least insert a scene where he tries to buy a ticket on an earlier flight and can’t get it, thus the last minute arrival.
Meanwhile, Akshay has been testifying, giving his version. He says that Arjan was always carrying a gun and delighted in threatening people with it (he had previously brought in a servant from their club to testify to such an incident, and submitted the paperwork of the club investigation into the incident), so Akshay wanted to take a gun with him when he went to talk to him. Sure enough, Arjan threatened him, they fought, knocking things around the room, and finally Arjan had his gun out and aimed at him, when Akshay managed to grab his own gun and shot him 3 times. And he brings in the Navy training book to show that he was trained to shoot without thinking in self-defense, always in clusters of 3. So in fact, the 3 shots prove that he must have been afraid and acting on instinct.
The prosecution’s only response is to ask, if there was this big struggle, how did Arjan’s towel stay on? A valid question! Earlier, we saw a salesman on the street, selling “authentic” towels, will stay on no matter what! I thought it was just so there wouldn’t be nudity in the film, but I guess the prosecutor doesn’t realize he is in a movie. Oh, and then Pawan arrives and plays his incriminating tape for the jury, and the jury is sent out.
(Maybe the same company made the sheets in this song?)
While the jury is out, Pawan goes to visit Akshay in his cell, where he is playing chess against himself, to say, essentially “I know there is something funny about your story, tell me the truth so I can sleep at night.” And Akshay says “sure! Makes no difference now, jury is already out, and I am confident they will find me innocent.”
So, real story: Akshay was friends with Arjan, and he met up with him in London when he was set there on secret business (this London trip had come up before, and he had refused to give more information because of the Official Secrets Act). Akshay was in London to inspect an aircraft carrier that India was planning to buy. Only, he realizes that Arjan and his boss Parmeet (Kuljit!) had arranged for him to be the inspector, it might have been the only reason they became friendly in the first place, because they wanted him to sign off on the purchase. Akshay hits Arjan in public in a bar, humiliating him, then rushes off to talk to the Minister of Defense. Who is in on it too! His only response is to offer Akshay a bigger bribe. After Akshay refuses, and insists he is going to present his report, suddenly he is ordered away for 6 months, and Arjan and Esha work together while he is gone to seduce Ileana in revenge. Now, while he is in jail, Parmeet is still running around trying to find copies of his report, that’s why they searched the house and everything. And the Minister of Defense provided only half the phone call, the rest was a threat to the Minister directly because of his part in the scheme. Finally, Ileana’s job was to get the proof against them in the form of a wire transfer payment to Akshay while he was in jail. Oh, and he never said any of this in his own defense, because India has to have faith in its armed services, even if it means Akshay goes to jail.
And then, finally, we see the murder itself. Akshay walked into the bedroom, immediately knocked over a table and a lamp while Arjan was still in the shower. Arjan came out, sees him, says something like “You took my money, I took your wife”, and Akshay shoots him in the chest immediately. Then places the gun by his hand with the trigger cocked. So it was a set up after all!
Only, let’s break this down a little. Did the whole aircraft character plot actually change anything? Akshay didn’t shoot Arjan because he was bribing the Indian government. He shot him because Arjan was about to say something about Ileana, and Akshay was furious about their affair. Sure, the affair happened because Arjan wanted revenge on Akshay. But not about the whole aircraft carrier thing, just the last part of it, when Akshay slapped his face in public. So, as far as the murder is concerned, it actually was Akshay deciding to kill the guy who seduced his wife and then killing him.
The planted some clues earlier that it might be much more scandalous and cynical, Akshay mentioned “sacrificing his Queen” when playing chess, and he was all smiling and waving when he tripped off for 6 months leaving his wife alone immediately after Arjan threatened him. And, most of all, why didn’t he ask Ileana to stop spending time with Arjan and Esha once he found out they were corrupt? It kind of felt like maybe the movie was heading towards Akshay, and possible with Ileana’s help, set Arjan up to have an affair with Ileana, so he would have cover when he killed him. But, nope! The movie didn’t go that way after all, Akshay was just too stupid to warn Ileana, Arjan really did seduce her and that really was a shock and a betrayal to Akshay, and it really was the main motivation for killing him.
(Basically, I want every movie to be as coldhearted and twisty as Baazigar)
Although, I do like the idea that it was that “planned crime of passion” thing that I described earlier with his very “I am only under control because of my training” affect. He planned the whole thing out, pretending to be calm and casual so it would look like self-defense when he finally did it, but underneath he was seething with anger the whole time, as soon as he saw the bruise on Ileana’s face (remember that slight emphasis on “I don’t want an explanation from you”?), and knew he was going to kill Arjan.
The next day, sure enough, the jury declares him innocent. And he and Ileana leave the court together, her leaning on his shoulder, and he gently helps her into the car, including delicately sweeping up the train of her sari. This is the important part, not all the spying and stuff, but that he still respects and honors her, and has no shame about doing something as lowly and sweeping her train of the ground. That one tiny excusable slip that came out through loneliness and sadness is not enough to stop him loving and respecting and cherishing her. And that her one slip with another man has no effect on her devotion and happiness in her marriage. All that patriotism and spies and kickbacks stuff was just filler to make it more of an Independence Day release.
Oh, and then the tag is a series of newspaper headlines showing that the aircraft deal was put on hold, finally going through 4 years later with all the flaws fixed, and then that newspaper is shown being read by Akshay and Ileana, in their new home in Canada, far away from all the scandal of their past. (but, THE APARTMENT!!! How could you leave?)
(also, have a mentioned before that it blows my mind that in real life the Nanavati’s retired to Canada, to live a long and happy life together before finally dying of old age in the 2000s? Some nice elderly couple in the Toronto suburbs who have all this crazy scandal in their past?)