Ah! The pleasures of finding in a film’s dialogues the essence of how it left you feeling. The epiphany of its characters articulating exactly what you want to in your review. Not once, but three times over in the last one-third of the film’s playtime when the narrative well and truly disintegrates, undoing whatever intrigue it had managed to build up. Chehre is a textbook case of how lazy writing can ruin a perfectly engaging premise, in this case based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 work, Die Panne (A Dangerous Game).
A hotshot advertising professional, Sameer Mehra [Emraan Hashmi, playing the kind of rakish character he has made a career of], who likes life in the fast lane, is trapped in a snowstorm. Asking a passer-by if the road leads to Delhi, he receives the cryptic answer, ‘The road leads nowhere…’, before being escorted by the gregarious stranger, Paramjeet Bhullar [Annu Kapoor], to a well-appointed mansion, equipped with a fireplace and a bar where he finds three old fogeys waiting for him with suspicious relish – Jagdish Acharya [Dhritiman Chaterji], Hariya Jatak [Raghubir Yadav] and Lateef Zaidi [Amitabh Bachchan].
There’s also the poker-faced housemaid Anna [Rhea Chakrabarty], who does their bidding when not having giggling fits. The four elderly gentlemen, it turns out, have retired from law enforcement and have developed a game to while away time that hangs heavy in these sunset years. Conduct mock trials on unsuspecting wayfarers who happen to
drop by, based on transgressions actual or conjured (there’s of course the subtext of providing justice where there might have been a miscarriage).
Cocky and smug in the belief that he has never done anything wrong, though he doesn’t waste time in making a pass or two at Anna, Sameer agrees to play along. And so begins a cat-and-mouse mind game as Zaidi, acting as public prosecutor, builds a case against Sameer, who finds himself in deeper waters than he probably envisaged. So far so good.
The first half ends on a note promising a decent thriller, set within the claustrophobic confines of an isolated mansion with communication with the world outside severed. However, all of it is undone by unbelievably shoddy writing as the film opens up to reveal the skeletons in Sameer’s cupboard. The proceedings become increasingly untenable — an advertising honcho’s huge haveli has no watchmen, allowing Sameer to scale its imposing gates and break a window to rescue a damsel in distress, for example. The writers are so caught up in their own verbosity — not helped by Bachchan’s propensity to overplay his hand — that the frisson marking the initial exchanges between the characters begins to pall. The unravelling of Sameer’s past is so sloppily done that it drains the film of all thrills.
Then comes Amitabh Bachchan’s 10-minute monologue, ‘What Is Law’ — and his baritone notwithstanding, kills whatever is left of the film. The speech is so out of place here that for a moment — as the sequence cuts between Dhritiman Chatterjee and Amitabh Bachchan — I found myself wondering if these were leftovers from Pink! Time was when his mere presence and voice would be enough to raise a film’s watchability quotient. Here, if it’s anyone who well and truly sinks it, is Bachchan, supremely ‘aware’ of himself, cannibalising everything around him (right from that recitation in the atrocious opening montage).
Which brings me to the film’s three self-aware dialogues. One, Bhullar objecting to Zaidi’s fanciful assumptions in building his case against Sameer: ‘Preposterous, obnoxious, outrageous.’ You said it, sir. Describes the second half to a T. Zaidi himself in the middle of his filibustering, speaking of our propensity to use the law as a plaything: ‘It must stop.’ Yes, sir, and why didn’t you? And finally, Sameer, exhausted from the whole thing: ‘Main thak gaya hoon, pak gaya hoon.’ Yes, buddy, I hear you. I felt the same way. The filmmakers could have done well to reflect on these percipient observations.
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Amitabh Bachchan, Annu Kapoor, Raghubir Yadav, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Rhea Chakraborty, Krystle D’Souza, Siddhanth Kapoor, Samir Soni
Director: Rumi Jafry
Where: In theatres near you
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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