Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wazir: Review

Three films into his career, Bejoy Nambiar has shown a fondness for slo-mo that verges on John Woo-dom. Wazir begins with an entire song in slo-mo, showing the engagement and marriage of ATS officer Danish (Farhan Akhtar) and dancer Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari). By the end of the song, they have a child. Their life looks blissful—and if movies have taught us anything, it’s that this much happiness early on in a film means something awful is about to happen. Sure enough, when Danish is out with his family in the next scene, he sees a suspicious-looking car. Daughter in tow (Ruhana has stepped out), he follows it and finds himself being shot at by terrorists. He manages to scare off his attackers, but his little girl catches a bullet and dies in hospital.

As with Nambiar’s first film, Shaitan, one bad decision begets another, and Danish, high on sleep medicines, turns up unannounced during a raid on the terrorists’ hideout. As a result, he’s suspended from the force. It’s at this point that he’s contacted by Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan), a wheelchair-bound chess teacher whom everyone knows as Panditji. Panditji tells Danish that he recently lost a daughter as well and invites the young man to come play chess with him. They become friends, and Panditji soon confides that he believes his daughter’s death—a fall down a flight of stairs—was actually murder. He suspects Yazaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul), a politician from Kashmir, in whose Delhi house the girl died.

Here’s where Wazir goes off the rails. We know Qureshi is guilty because the film shows us that. But Panditji has nothing to go on except the look in Qureshi’s eyes on the day of the accident. And Danish not only takes up Panditji’s case without any questions, he manages to mobilize state resources—while still suspended!—against a seemingly blameless public figure. Hindi cinema’s turn towards vigilantism isn’t a new thing, but it’s still disturbing how heroically it treats this instinct.

Even when Wazir is making little sense (which is fairly often), the pace never flags. The film’s writers are Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi, both of whom know a thing or two about crafting a fast-moving screenplay. Apart from a bizarre cameo by Neil Nitin Mukesh, the performances are appropriately dour (Akhtar), theatrical (Bachchan) and quietly menacing (Kaul). The only scenes that drag are the ones with Danish and Ruhana; Nambiar wants us to feel their pain, but we’re never given a sense of what they were like as a couple before tragedy stuck. As a result, their estrangement and rapprochement feel artful—a clenched jaw here, a reddened eye there—but uninvolving.

The film’s audience will doubtless prove brighter than Danish and figure out that there’s something more than shared tragedy that draws him and Panditji together. This 'something' is the big reveal of Wazir, and though it makes some dramatic sense, you must be prepared to have your credulity stretched like chewing gum. Nambiar’s previous films have suffered from screenplays that are less than clever. This one reaches for cleverness, which is just beyond its grasp, and that mars what could have been an unusually dour, taut thriller.

This review appeared in Mint. 

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