It’s been a long time since I went to a movie theater and it was so crowded I could hardly find a seat! That was exciting. And I don’t think it was just about the quality of this film (although it is very very good), I think it is also a “right time” thing.
(I usually put up a spoiler and no spoiler review within hours of each other. This time, as a courtesy to the producers, I am delaying the spoiler review until late Sunday/early Monday. Unless we get too many spoiler comments on this post, in which case I will post it earlier than planned)
It was time for this kind of film. Not a big ambitious blockbuster, but a small interesting film with good performances and good script and good directing. And NOT a “western-style” film. Ugh, I hate that phrase!!!! Just because you take out the songs and the romance doesn’t make it “western-style”. And just because you put in a twisted plot and clever dialogue doesn’t make it not-Indian. It’s from BR Chopra films, made by BR’s grandson, and it is in the BR Chopra style. BR Chopra, Vijay Anand, even Mahesh Bhatt in some of his films. Heck, the movie itself name checks Gupt. Some of them have songs, some of them have romance, but they are all films that use a simple mystery to explore society. That is the tradition this film is from, not the “thriller” tradition of western films, but the mystery-which-is-social-drama Indian tradition.
The original Ittefaq, as I said in my review, is exploring social assumptions. Do we trust the respectable married woman? The forces of the state? Or the radical passionate young artist?
But that was Indian in 1969. India in 2017 is different. Now, the forces are class, NRI versus local, and still (always and forever) man versus woman. That is what this film is about, not “who did it”, but how people are blinded to “who did it”, only see what they want to see. Whether it is the witnesses who convinced themselves they would be interviewed on TV camera not by the police. Or Mandira Bedi (so happy to see her again!) declaring that Siddharth is too handsome to be guilty. Or the audience, coming up with our own theories as the film goes on, trying to make what we see onscreen match what we think is the answer.
What we see onscreen is really remarkable. It lives up to the heritage Yash Chopra gave in the original. It’s not showy, it’s not splashy, but it is quietly excellent. There are a few moments that stood out for me. A little thing, Akshaye entering a room while looking at his phone, and the blue light of the phone gently reflecting up on his white shirt. The rain starting over the skyline of Bombay, and then drops suddenly appearing on the camera screen. And, like the original, the use of space is phenomenal. The apartment, where we see the 3 rooms over and over. The stairs, up and down and up and down. And the police station, the holding room, the cell, the office, and the stairs again, up and down and up again. And the doorway, the place of transition, where new ideas suddenly occur and decisions are taken.
This is the other way the film is timely. It is timely because it is time for Abhay Chopra to make this movie. With his name and his connections, he could have made his first movie ten years ago. It could have been a huge thing, produced by Yash Raj (run by his cousins), starring Ranbir Kapoor (his best friend since kindergarten), and everything with a massive budget (BR Chopra films ten years ago was riding high on Baabul and Baghban money). But instead, Abhay waited. He worked as an AD for a variety of other directors, he made his own short films, he took his time. It could have been because he didn’t have the talent or vision to risk anything at a young age, that he was jockeyed into making this film by other more dominant personalities. But this film is not just well-made, it is intelligently made, there is a clear mental power behind it, an intelligent force creating it. Abhay proved himself and more. He certainly could have made a good movie even earlier. But instead he waited until he could make a great movie.
A great practical movie. It’s a rich world of characters, and wonderful actors embody them. Akshaye Khanna in particular is predictably the best part of the film. Siddharth Malhotra is surprisingly good. Sonakshi is acceptable. But beyond those 3, the rest of the cast is similarly brilliant. But they are not famous actors. Not expensive actors who drive up the budget and make the schedule that much more complex with the only advantage being a tiny bump in publicity. It’s a world with wonderful sets perfectly used. But only a few sets. The whole movie is just plain clever that way. It never feels cheap, and yet it is. It was built to be cheap, to be practical, to be cautious.
And now is the time for that. After a depressing several months at the box office, it is time for a small clever film that will make back it’s budget and then some, get people talking, get people remembering what it was like to come to a movie and enjoy themselves. And it is time for BR Chopra Films to come back. Movies about class and society and men and women and a lot more than silly slogans and superficial romances. Movies that make you think, not just feel.