Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Jackie Shroff, Siddhant Kapoor, Chandan Roy Sanyal
Director: Sanjay Gupta
Rating: * * ½
Runtime: 122 mins
A comeback film meant to keep the former beauty queen in the public spot light, this Sanjay Gupta misadventure is set-up as a conscienceless thriller with a women-centered agenda copiously denouncing rape and abuse while justifying criminal behavior –so long as it’s the woman doing it.
Aishwariya may have gone off celluloid for a brief period but the accumulated cellulite refuses to shed as easily. The film’s opening sequence, an aerial shot zooming in to the protagonist on the ground, has Anu Verma (Aishwariya), in dark jogging plumes, running and exercising around Carter road promenade. It’s not so much a pretty sight as much as a suggestive one. Gupta wants us to root for the heroine who is working hard to get in shape. But the disjointed unraveling that he has in store wrecks that expectation.
Anu is supposedly a super successful high-powered lawyer and a super mum, single-handedly bringing up her daughter Shanaya. She has just managed to trick the justice system into letting off a history sheeter and has no qualms about that. Poor prosecutor (Atul kulkarni) had no frigging idea of what he was doing in a scene where the judge, jury, prosecutor and defense lawyer were all being played by the heroine. No, it’s not a multiple role, just that the scene did not allow for any participation from any of the other players within it’s fold. Kind of par-for-the-course I guess.
Anu also wholeheartedly plays zestful cheer leader to her young daughter who is running a race she wants to win. All along the way we’re being told that Anu is a winner and is not used to losing. But the race proves costly as by the end of it, Shanaya has been kidnapped and there’s no trace of any of the participants or the school authorities- just the hapless , helpless mother juxtaposed against empty stands and a eerily empty ground. Is Mumbai this heartless or is that trick cinematography just another way for a filmmaker to make a statement that is nowhere close to fact? The answer lies in the big, bold, megalomaniacal manner in which Sanjay Gupta tracks his lead characters through a maze of derelict go downs and shanty dwellings without providing the connecting dots to show us how they got there. Anu is asked to represent a convicted rapist/ murderer (Chandan Roy Sanyal), get his case reopened and win him a reprieve in the 4 weeks time set by the kidnappers. And she’s clueless as to why someone would want that. The police, who were initially called in are sent back when the kidnapper claims to know they are around. Anu’s school friend turned rogue cop Yohann(Irfan Khan) has no clue as to what’s happening yet he is willing to help Anu along the way. A supposedly learned professor(Shabana Azmi) , mother of the raped and murdered victim, might just have some of the answers she is looking for.
Irfan Khan is all over the place, landing in the nick-of-time, every time, to save his damsel in distress. He also manages to throw in a few (designed to be crowd-pleasing) one-liners that sound terribly jaded and definitely old hat. Aishwarya shrieks, cries, hit’s her hands on the dusty stony ground and all but goes berserk in her attempt to lend life to a poorly written and confoundingly conceptualized role. And she is found distinctly wanting in the performance department. Shabana has the most distinctive role to essay and it’s not without it’s writing warts. Even so she lends it enough power and weight(and some of it ungainly). Sanjay Gupta’s narrative is mostly choppy and opportunistic. The damp green-gray stock Mumbaiscape inserts (which is now his signature style) paints a dreary, scary picture of a derelict, dark almost post apocalyptic disturbia (unintentional is my guess) that takes away from the hyperventilating dramatics and eventual twisty conclusion. The city here is certainly not the lively, robust urban sprawl that we are used to. That’s probably Gupta’s Achilles heel too. He just doesn’t want to get down and dirty in the real world. For him larger than life, dirtier, alien, borrowed cut-out characters and rotten contrivances are much fancier tropes to use in the name of style. This one’s stylish and showy but the lack of depth and dimensions make it amount to a mess. Mis-appropriation(Korean flick 7Days) doesn’t always pay dividends.