MUMBAI — As a debut directorial, Naman Nitin Mukesh’s first film shows that here is a welcome addition of the list of whodunit directors of our luminous thriller like Abbas-Mustan, Sriram Ragahvan and Sujoy Ghosh, The first half, while seeming confusing to some because of the fast cuts and moves between past and present (not confusing really if you have been a thriller buff), is especially done superbly, though we agree that for Indian audience sensibilities, it may seem more than a tad jerky.
The second half follows a more mainstream line and the stalking sequence could perhaps have been cut by five minutes. It is here that the motives start becoming clearer — seemingly, because the denouement, as in many superb thrillers down to “Badla,” has a post-climax that shows the actual truth.
Perhaps because it is a whodunit, a genre for which I have had a soft corner since childhood, as books, stories, tele-films and movies across the spectrum, I decided to write this review a day late, so that I could look at other reviews and find out if the Indian critics understood the film and its crafting. And I was sorely disappointed.
It takes a special (I am not saying superior) sensibility to like and appreciate thrillers. That sensibility is improving (as “AndhaDhun” and “Badla” prove) but very slowly. Critics do not comprehend the fact that a thriller by definition has to confuse before it offers the solution, and can, in the better ones, have two denouements — one accepted by the characters in the story and apparent, and one real.
Critics barely understand that a whodunit writer starts with the end and works out the beginning and middle. The red herrings and misguiding twists are therefore a part of the weaving of the story, as masterful examples like “Gupt” and “A Wednesday!” have shown. When being filmed, such writing has to be mixed with cerebral direction to transmit the message audio-visually that everyone can be a suspect including, sometimes, the protagonist. In one of her best works, Agatha Christie’s narrator was the criminal. In another, it was the investigating detective!
Writer Neil Nitin Mukesh thus deserves full credit for crafting a foolproof and brilliant screenplay sans loopholes, and as said earlier, the only downers, if one may call them so, are small concessions to formula, convention and Hindi film grammar from earlier eras. I will not give any examples here as they can be spoilers.
Briefly, the story revolves around fashion designer and now paraplegic Vikram Kapoor (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who suffers from a car accident and ends up on a wheelchair. There are wheels within wheels (pun unintended please) as a top model Sarah Braganza (Shama Sikandar) who works for him has committed suicide the same evening and almost at the same time. Her fiancé Jimmy (Taher Shabbir) is on the run, and there is the mysterious involvement of Vikram’s business rival (Sudhanshu Pandey) who seems to be everywhere.
On the side, there is Vikram’s father (Rajit Kapur), who loves him but feels guilty because after the death of Vikram’s mother, he had sent him to a boarding school. This is also because he had married Romila (Gul Panag) and Vikram hates her. There is also Romila’s small daughter who gets along famously with Vikram.
Back in office, Radhika (Adah Sharma) is in love with him, and though Vikram too loves her, he does not want her to be saddled now to a wheelchair-ridden man for the rest of her life.
Finally, there is a mysterious angle of a top U.S.-based doctor opining that Vikram will completely recover, and the prospect of his coming down to India to treat him, but his delighted father asks the Indian doctor to keep the news confidential so that Vikram will get a surprise.
Neil’s writing is top-class for this genre, the details rounded off well, and there is of course the use of tropes like the loyal family servant (Mukesh Bhatt), the masked and hooded figure coming to kill the helpless victim, the stepmother’s digs at even the injured stepson, the astute cop (Manish Chaudhari)and the seductress out to emotionally blackmail a designer into sleeping with her. But everything hangs together in the end and — most creditably — even in the double twist that follows.
Technically, the DOP (Fasahat Khan) and editors (Bunty Nagi and Vijay Pal) are big heroes. But the biggest heroes in this department are sound recording engineers (Kunal Mehta and Parikshit Lalwani) who do an awesome job throughout, and Daniel B. George, who composes the mood-inducing and very thoughtfully conceived background score, with a haunting thematic riff. It is here that we still feel that an overdose of the R.D. Burman-esque tenor could have been avoided, but mysteriously, today’s generations have now equated that with suspense and thrills!
The music is the only sore point, with a couple of tracks sounding okay while on but disappearing from memory as soon as they are over. The re-created track, “So Gaya Yeh Jahaan” is well-done, but not well sung, by the youngsters. And only its old part, re-rendered brilliantly by Nitin Mukesh lingers in memory!
As an actor, Neil is his usual impressive self, although this time he also makes a special effort in close-ups to add an extra dimension to his hapless character. Adah Sharma continues to be in top form even if she does not get much footage. Mukesh Bhatt and Rajit Kapur are impressive, and Gul Panag delivers. Manish Chaudhari‘s performance is on target, and Sudhanshu Pandey is alright, but the supporting show is stolen by Taher Shabbir, who comes across as an extremely effective actor in his gray role.
This is a thriller not to be missed, and like all smart films in this genre, to be watched once again to understand how it was fashioned both at script and visual level.
Produced and written by: Neil Nitin Mukesh
Directed by: Naman Nitin Mukesh
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Sharib Sabri, Toshi Sabri, Rohan-Rohan, Raaj Aashoo
& Mayur Jumani
Starring: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Adah Sharma, Rajit Kapur, Gul Panag, Sudhanshu Pandey,Shama Sikander, Manisha Chaudhari, Mukesh Bhatt, Taher Shabbir & others