Synopsis – A detective seeks out the truth between two different stories of a crime scene.
My Take – I generally love suspense thrillers mainly as it is probably the one genre which actually changes the perspective of how you see things, by compelling you to question the nature of reality no matter how perfect the situation looks like and as a Hindi going audience, we all do know that it’s been a while since Bollywood has churned out a good thriller. Films like Gupt, Kahaani, Race, Manorama-Six Feet Under, Talvaar or last year’s Phobia worked splendidly due to their good twist & turns which ended up embedding in our memories, and from what I have understood the level of secrecy and no-promotion technique maintained by the film’s producers, Karan Johar & Shah Rukh Khan, they seem quite confident about their film containing enough tension to keep audience at bay. Of course, a certain hype also comes from the fact that Abhay Chopra, the grandson of B.R. Chopra, is marking his debut as director by remaking his home production’s 1969 classic which starred Rajesh Khanna and Nanda in lead roles (which itself was a remake of 1964s Hollywood thriller Signpost To Murder) and directed by grand uncle Yash Chopra. Thankfully, this retooled version, written by Chopra, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Mehrotra, takes some ideas from both productions while fashioning a film that is both a sleek and original thriller as well as a throwback to older Bollywood suspense dramas.
Sure, the modern spin-off might be unconvincing in some parts and often tedious, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there was a genuine attempt to make a good film. What makes this film stand out especially is Abhay Chopra‘s smart direction, as he has brilliantly handled this disturbing thrill ride and not for a second does it feels like the man behind the lens is a first-time director, as tricks the viewers inside his characters without providing a complete picture of what’s happening in this murder mystery. The story follows Dev Verma (Akshaye Khanna), an investigating officer, who is tasked by the commissioner to solve a twisted double murder in the next three days, in which the only witnesses are also the prime suspects in the case. One suspect being Vikram Sethi (Siddharth Malhotra), a UK based bestselling author, who upon finding his wife Katherine (Kimberley Louisa McBeath) dead in their hotel room, panics and goes on the run. The other suspect being Maya Sinha (Sonakshi Sinha), whose doorstep Vikram ends up finding himself at, were the police also end up finding Maya’s husband lying dead in their tastefully done-up living room with a fatal wound on the head. While Maya claims Vikram killed her husband, Vikram is adamant that the man was likely dead before he arrived. Both have their own version of what transpired that fateful night and both sound very convincing but only one can be true. It’s up to the wry and straight-talking Dev has to sift through the many clues and red herrings in his path, to figure out who is the real killer and what happened that night! Honestly, it is quite difficult to have an opinion for a film like this one without giving away any spoilers, mainly as it might click with some & might not with some others. A good whodunit is all about mystery, suspense and a plot that keeps you hooked to the screen with its intriguing script. There are very few movies in Bollywood that keep you on the edge of your seat and you still can’t guess who the real culprit is. Well, debutant Abhay Chopra‘s film is all about guessing the murderer until the end. Here, the film is fast-paced and the narrative keeps you engaged throughout, an effort that needs to be lauded for bringing back a forgotten genre that needs to be revisited often. Director Abhay Chopra, follows the foot-step of the original 1969 film, but introduces his own world. The first few minutes are enough to set the tone of this film. The film has a pretty solid opening scene involving car chases and the confrontation between Vikram & Maya. The film adds more flavors with Akshaye Khanna entering the scene and taking the charge of murder. With his witty one liners such as “Crime scene pe chaai bana rahe ho dimaag kharab hai”, “Saala sab ke sab writers nikle,” Dev is a treat to watch. Also, the confusion created via two different narration works totally in favor of the film, as you just want to know who the murderer is.
In Dev’s word, there are three sides to this story: “Maya’s, Vikram’s and the truth”. The work of unveiling the truth pulls all your attention! Every time you have another dice rolling out, you make your own theories only to find you still have a lot to sink in. By the time you are halfway through the film, the suspense reaches its peak and you find it difficult to wrap your head around what to believe and what not to. Having no music, just like the original, was an interesting choice. The director does a fine job in building tension when two victims tell their own version of stories. In second half, you will be convinced with the suspect and while everything is about to end well, there will be another twist in the end where the director creates more impact with crisp editing. The film does undercut some of its potential for suspense by including numerous flashbacks, some of which merely repeat details that are already known. Yet, for the most part, the narrative hums along smoothly, and benefits tremendously from returning ever so often to Dev. Shot seductively, in intimate places, on a rainy night, with a dark tone, and a mysterious background score, along with a wild chase between the police and the suspect and it is clear that it has all the elements of a noir film. Director Chopra sets up frames that take you right within the confines of where the action takes place – sometimes it is the living room of Maya’s apartment, or the four walls where Dev drags a solitary chair to interrogate Vikram, there is a lot of finesse in the way this remake has been shot. Unlike the late maverick Yash Chopra, he focuses just on who killed and how, never bringing in subjects of loyalty and breach of trust, the props which played a significant role in the original. A major problem, which works for the film, is the lack of clues. It gets frustrating but at least it doesn’t allow you to guess the final scene. In his debut film, director Chopra seems to have enough control of his craft to never drift too far away from the core; and even though the twist in the tale doesn’t entirely come as a surprise, the film still manages to keep you hooked enough to want to know what happens in the end. Running for around 105 minutes, the film does suffer due to a few flaws, for example, the film contains a lot of unnecessary side banter between cops that includes some toilet humor, which is jarring to the premise of the film. Also, the film does have a believable climax, but it feels like a last minute resort to give the film the expected twist and turn. With a premise like this, the end could have had an edgier wrap up. Performance wise, Akshaye Khanna steals the show with his sheer presence. Khanna‘s Dev is the film’s most interesting character. He gets the best lines and delivers them with panache – trademark half-scowl and deadpan wit in place. Sidharth Malhotra looks believable as Vikram on screen. If you believe he is not guilty, you will see innocence. If you believe he is guilty, you will see a hidden smirk. In fact, this film could become a career-changing film for the actor after he failed to impress the audience with his last two outings, Baar Baar Dekho & A Gentleman. Sonakshi Sinha is equally convincing as Maya and does well to don completely different avatars in the two versions of the story. Though the double murder movie is not even a patch on something like a Talvar, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it deserves a one-time watch for sure. On the whole, ‘Ittefaq’ is a gripping thriller which despite a few flaws still ends up being taut and worth a watch.
Directed – Abhay Chopra
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 105 minutes