Okay, it’s official. India’s love affair with Irrfan Khan is peaking. These days he is often the only reason to go watch a film.
Mr Khan dazzles. When he’s trying to, of course. But much more when he’s not.
Here, in Sanjay Gupta’s remake of the 2007 South Korean film Seven Days, he’s trying. And for good reason.
He’s gimmicky, in fact. Not just playing to the gallery but shamelessly pandering to our need for some thrills and excitement, for us to stop slouching into the backrest of our seats and to rise and whistle.
In this rather long-faced movie courtesy mostly the stiff-necked Aishwarya in the avatar of a traumatised mummy, he keeps breaking into brief episodes of whimsy.
It seems as if dialogue writers with special razzmatazz skills have been recruited only to write one-liners for him, those matter-of-fact asides, insults, profundities, even emotional revelations which have become his trademark. He does not so much do dialogue baazi as gently toss dialogue darts — cute, ticklish and yet sharp. They make us break into a smile, are like fairy dust on the film, including this rather solemn one, and add one more decisive stroke to the Irrfan Khan archetype that’s under construction.
Blase and sometimes crass, but always within the bounds of tameez, he plays a man aware and weary of his own charm and intelligence. His lazily astute but elusive characters appear to do some real-speak and then disappear. A man who is of this world yet detached. A Sufi lover, cop, son, friend, enemy with oodles of street cred.
Hyperbole? In expression perhaps, not essence.
Kaante (Reservoir Dogs), Zinda (Oldboy), Musafir (U Turn), Khauff (The Juror)…
Sanjay Gupta has made it his life’s mission to remake “cool” films into uncool ones. He sometimes gets the posturing and slo-mo bits right, but the spirit always wrong.
He takes deliciously morally ambiguous stories and characters, and turns them all self-righteous with melodrama and needless grandstanding. It’s boring. And a copout.
He does the same here.
Even though he has copied the Korean film almost scene for scene, even dialogue for dialogue, he takes credit for writing it. He’s added two things, of course — a hint of love and longing because all Bollywood A-listers need that, and a constant invocation to Mummy and Mummyhood, the most forbidding religion of our times.
Anuradha Verma (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is an ambitious and interesting celebrity lawyer but an annoying sort of mummy. The sort only Aishwarya can be — perfect, fighting fit and managing, not juggling, a booming career and champion mummyhood without so much as a crease in her pant-suit.
She arrives on the screen in the kind of Motivational Videos for Mummies that would make most mummies resort to emotional binge eating and scream, “I’m so not worth it”. She leaves me cold.
On the other hand is her childhood friend, Inspector Yohan (Irrfan Khan), whose life is like a precarious Jenga tower of mistakes and misdemeanours. It’s wobbling but standing, only because of his chutzpah.
Anuradha’s daughter gets kidnapped, the ransom is that she fight the case of Niyaz (Chandan Roy Sanyal), who is facing death on charges of rape and murder of Sia, and make sure he’s set free.
In the Indian context, especially Bollywood, when a mummy is scorned and she returns, she evokes a different kind of horror. We can deal with an army of embalmed, fully bandaged, blood-thirsty zombies, but one live mummy evokes a deep-set terror that turns everything around her into blubbering goo.
The film’s plot is interesting, pitting Mummy Anuradha, who is fighting a sinful battle to save her daughter, against Mummy Garima Chaudhary (Shabana Azmi), mother of Sia, who wants justice for her daughter.
Much banality about coffee mugs and relationships flows between the two mummies, even a lecture on victimisation of rape victims in courts before a new cast of characters are introduced to add twists to the case in court and Anuradha’s life. Problem is that the cool, thriller music to which the rape scene is conducted belies their sermons and bleeding-heart posturing.
There’s a confession to the rape and murder that should have upped Anuradha’s moral dilemma, but the film has cast her as the saviour of the girl child, as the reigning deity of Mummyhood, complete with a pithy comment on how only motherhood completes a woman, so there’s only one way to go.
Sanjay Gupta’s thriller offers few thrills, mostly proceeding at a languorous pace, ignoring or botching up the small details, but all the time admiring the stunning mug of Aishwarya.
Jazbaa has been shot to tell us, repeatedly, that the former Miss World has returned after giving birth and nurturing her daughter and is not only in very good shape, but is still in the box-office game.
Her real-life and the character she plays here merge and morph into a paean for mummies and mummyhood, setting new, higher standards for mummyjis of the world.
Problem is that Aishwarya is uppity and plastic. It’s impossible to connect with her. Or even see her as real.
Irrfan Khan tries to foster some chemistry, but the chilly Aishwarya freezes it every single time. In any case, they operate at two very different levels — she believes she is a star, acts like a star, and is treated like one by the filmmaker and the camera. And since he is just an actor playing a character, he’s treated as an appendage whose purpose is to shine light on the star. Only in this case our interest is entirely on the one who wields the torch.
Shabana Azmi looks and acts like she knew exactly what this film was all about and doesn’t bother giving it much. That’s a shame.
Chandan Roy Sanyal is always interesting but doesn’t get much play here. A pity!