chehre review

Amitabh Bachan and Emraan Hashmi in “Chehre.” (Universal Communications photo)

Two thoughts before reviewing “Chehre” — the first is as profound a mystery as the story: Why is Amitabh Bachchan being billed as a “Friendly Appearance” here, when he is there throughout the film? Two, Alexx O’Nell, who plays a walk-on part in the movie, must presumably be the only foreign actor to have a spelling for his first name driven by numerology!

Let me solve, at the outset itself, another mystery: why is Bachchan billed as a writer when he is not listed officially in the credits? Simple: a press release from the producer revealed that he has written a long monologue but not taken credit for it.

Over then to the film, whose pre-climax has elements of the superbly-crafted but box-office –wise disaster, “The Body” (2019), in which Emraan Hashmi was cast with Rishi Kapoor and there were similar climatic and climactic conditions!

While that film was adapted from a Spanish movie, this is said to be based on a Swiss novel. And this shows how few are the original thrillers Hindi cinema makes! But on its own steam, the film is well-crafted, very well-mounted and generally very different. Ironically, the last feature also underscores why it will not be a box-office blockbuster.

The film is about four retired oldies connected with criminal law. Judge Jagdish Acharya (Dhritiman Chaterjee), prosecutor Lateef Zaidi (Amitabh Bachchan) and defense counsel Paramjeet Bhullar (Annu Kapoor) are bum-chums who meet frequently in the judge’s palatial mansion amidst snow-clad mountains, along with Hariya Jatav (Raghuvir Yadav), who used to be the hangman. Serving them are the slightly-off maid Anna (Rhea Chakraborty) and her mute brother Joe (Siddhant Kapoor), who live nearby in that secluded mountain zone.

The quartet plays a game of a court trial every now and then. Here’s where they either dig up an old, real case or an imaginary one, maybe, and the two counsel present their respective sides while the judge delivers a verdict. And this time, the verdict is about true justice, even if, for various legal technicalities, the real-life judgment may have been different. Because the lady statuette in their court is not blind (which is supposed to be impartial in courts of law) but can see everything…

On one fateful day, a traveler in an expensive car, Sameer Mehra (Emraan Hashmi), an upcoming tycoon, is on the way to Delhi when a tree crashes in his car’s path in the snow-suffused terrain. Paramjeet is passing by on the way to his friend Jagdish’s mansion and he suggests that Sameer stay with them until the roads are cleared. And they get him involved in the game this time—with Sameer, who claims to have never broken the law but for some traffic signal offenses, as the culprit.

As a crime is needed, “defense counsel” Paramjeet suggests that Sameer decide in advance what he will be “accused” of, but the latter is dismissive, saying that as he has never committed a crime anyway, it really does not matter. The trial begins, Paramjeet is confident about victory, but Lateef, who is an acute observer a la Sherlock Holmes, springs a surprise.

The buildup is very skilful and, initially, the surprises are provided by the character of Anna as well, while there is the taciturn Joe, who also forms an integral part of the narration where he is revealed to be someone who has spent seven years in jail for murdering a rapist.

Sameer is actually the CEO of a firm owned by Natasha Oswal (Krystle D’Souza). And Natasha has a boyfriend (Alexx O’Neil) while Sameer is happily married with a son. These characters come in during the second half of the film, which dilutes the atmosphere to an extent, but are explained away in the climax.

Deftly directed (Jafry was never known to be strong at making comedies, though he has co-written some good films in that genre), the film shows that maybe Jafry has found his true niche or forte in thrillers. The cinematography, both indoors and outdoors (Binod Pradhan) is breathtaking, and so is Priya Suhas’ production design. We really cannot find fault with Bodhaditya Banerjee’s editing either and Clinton Cerejo, for reasons best known to him and the director, keeps the background music both in overdrive and always (even in “normal” sequences) in needless menacing or thrilling mode.

The songs are created by two entities, come in as noisy interruptions, and, as almost always nowadays, are disastrous. Not so the performances, though. Amitabh Bachchan’s measured and cool performance is enhanced by his eyes, which alone do an amazing job. Emraan Hashmi is in form, though at times his character seems to be written over-the-top to accentuate his character.

Annu Kapoor is excellent as the Sikh defense counsel, Punjabi accent and all. Raghuvir Yadav is superb in his briefest role among the friends, while Siddhant Kapoor makes a strong and silent impression as a character who is also in that very mode. Dhritiman Chaterjee is also effective as the judge, while Krystle D’Souza has nothing much to do, ditto Samir Soni and Alexx O’Nell.

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