Aiyaary (2018) Review!!!

Synopsis – Two officers with patriotic hearts suddenly have a fallout. The mentor, Colonel Abhay Singh has complete faith in the country’s system while protégé Major Jai Bakshi thinks differently due to a recent stint in surveillance.

My Take – If you have been a fan of Bollywood films and somehow still haven’t heard about writer, producer, director Neeraj Pandey, it is quite clear you have not been watching the right kind of films. Just to remind you, the master filmmaker has brought us some exceptional films in the form of A Wednesday, Special 26, Baby and M.S Dhoni – An Untold Story, and if you have seen this films the hype and excitement behind his latest venture should come as no surprise. His latest nation-in-peril film deals with national security, political corruption and patriotism all of which sound familiar when it comes to Neeraj Pandey‘s style of working. This film too is a mix of ideas that have featured in director Pandey’s catalogue as a director, producer (Toilet – Ek Prem Khatha) and writer which deals with an ordinary Indian becoming a vigilante to fight corruption and the justification of unlawful means towards a noble end. On the surface, this suspenseful espionage thriller is laudable in its sincere attempt to connect the dots in the web that a nation’s system weaves, when first it practices to deceive, yet the film seems quite confused & caught in a cinematic web of its own making. Which is surprising, as despite being set against the backdrop of Indian Armed Forces it totally lacks the natural flair associated with such kind of films.  While the film’s unusual title means trickster, this film is a perfect example of what happens when a filmmaker, like most of the industry he operates in, mentally differentiates between a thinking, niche audience and a commercial audience, and ends up serving neither.

The story follows two Indian army officers, Colonel Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) and his protégé, Major Jai Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra), who for some time have had a lasting relationship in the Indian Army which followed up as they both became a part of a covert military espionage unit. However, when Jai goes rogue and escapes the country with his girlfriend Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh) and a set of hard discs containing valuable information about ex-Army officers and arms dealers like Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) and Mukesh Kapoor (Adil Hussain), the now disavowed Abhay has only a limited amount of time on his hand to apprehend Jai before he leaks the information and brings the whole government down. This film is about the Indian ‘deep state’, a conspiracy within our military-industrial complex that secretly bypasses the policies of our democratically elected parliament and state legislatures. So, according to this film, the ‘Adarsh Housing Society’ scam of Colaba, Mumbai, that came to light in 2010, is a highly visible symptom of this connective loop, and so is the financing of covert operations abroad by the military. The two are linked. How so? This is the hypothesis on which the film gives us a long winded exposition, a sort of guided tour on how our ‘deep state of India’ functions. Sure, there are links between these two crimes, director Pandey will have us know, but he leaves it to us to figure out the bread crumb trail. The film starts off quite slow with the usual Neeraj Pandey trademark, which despite a scattered story line, remains engaging because it gives us reason to assume that great twists and turns will unfold at any moment. It spends time on showing us how someone even as senior as the Chief of the Army Staff (Vikram Gokhale) can be pressurized by a retired army officer and present arms dealer, Gurinder, to approve the purchase of military equipment at four times the actual price. The threat is that should the Chief turn down this outrageous deal, his funding for covert military operations overseas, vital for the nation’s security, will be exposed to the media. With scenes like this film takes longer than normal to make sense of what’s happening, and eats up half of the first half of the film, astonishingly it takes even longer than that to establish some of the small but important characters. There are also sequences, like the mission in Cairo, which do not tie up with the main plot in any way. Over the next 157-odd minutes, we go backwards, forwards, across time zones and in and out of subplots without urgency or coherence. The film is framed as a flashback story, which in turn contains a couple of flashbacks and then a flashback within a flashback. Director Pandey keeps taking one back and forth in time, digging up uninteresting stories from his characters’ past that have no bearing on the present. Instead of keeping the viewers on the edge of the seat, the device ends up having them confused as they keep disentangling the convoluted strands in their minds. The confusing structure, laced with an overwhelming background score, is presumably inspired by the title, which variously translates into magic, shape shifting and trickery.

Sure, the film is engaging enough when on the run and hopping flights and continents, but it also feels like writer-director Neeraj Pandey did not spend much time constructing the film, as the script is simply just confusing and chaotic. The normalization of surveillance state aside, it is the needlessly protracted and complicated telling of what is a not-so-deep tale that irritates no end and to top it all is the climax which seems like an afterthought, a desperate closure for a film hurtling nowhere. The symbiotic relationship between Abhay Singh and Jai Bakshi is the most interesting human aspect of the film, and when their camaraderie suddenly falls apart after the younger man goes ‘rogue’, the Colonel is so distraught that he loses his former clarity of thinking and starts making mistakes. He cannot recognize that the differences between them indicates a generational change, in which he, the Colonel, believes implicitly in the Indian State and its values, while the younger Major has become cynical of the corruption all around him and lost faith in the ideals of the Indian Republic. The filmmaker’s sharp ear for repartee, which is especially evident in a dockside encounter between Abhay and Mukesh, nudges the film towards something resembling a big statement on bribery and fraud in the Army. There is little doubt that the film tackles a bold subject, one that is worth exploring alongside the frequent tales of battlefield valor. There is palpable and relatable outrage at the rot within the system, but the response is inchoate and not particularly clever. Jai’s explanation for his actions, when it does finally come, is so empty, so bereft of detail and logic that it feels like an act of betrayal on the part of Pandey the scriptwriter. Unlike director Pandey’s other films, there is a sense of flatness in this film. Apart from a few scenes, the film seems to be randomly constructed and fails to evoke any thrill, especially Jai and Sonia romantic track does nothing but hinder the pace. Plus, how Major Jai Bakshi comes to know about Baburao Shastri (Naseeruddin Shah) could have been depicted more convincingly, or better explained, but are not. Tariq Ali (Anupam Kher) is another character who is almost unbelievable, and Mukul as a retired Indian army man and now an arms dealer operating with impunity from London are two other characters that should have concisely but convincingly rounded. Like always, director Pandey again employs his chosen actors with some new faces, who effortlessly lead the flawed film with ease. Led by the thespian Manoj Bajpayee, who puts the most effort into his role, and makes it look effortless. Gifted with the best lines and the most rounded-out characterization, Manoj Bajpayee makes all his scenes crackle. In a film like this, where you have to brood and frown most of the time, Bajpayee brings in that extra dimension with his brand of sarcasm-laced humor. It is in these scenes that the film shines. Director Pandey and Bajpayee have worked together in several films and the level of comfort that they share reflects on screen too. Sidharth Malhotra too puts in a sincere performance. Often ridiculed for his nonexistent acting skills, here Sidharth looks and feels complete natural for this role and it is hard to imagine someone else pulling this off better. Kumud Mishra has his moments of on-screen glory and he is effective, so does Adil Hussain. As always, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah are excellent in their extended cameos. The ladies, Rakul Preet Singh, Juhi Babbar and Pooja Chopra are just there to balance the otherwise totally male-oriented cast. On the whole, ‘Aiyaary‘ is a disappointing espionage thriller from Neeraj Pandey, which despite good performances and a good concept is led down by its half-baked subplots, shoddy writing and sluggish pace.

Directed – Neeraj Pandey

Starring – Anupam Kher, Sidharth Malhotra, Naseeruddin Shah

Rated – PG15

Run Time – 157 minutes

3 responses to “Aiyaary (2018) Review!!!

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Worst Bollywood Films of 2018 – A MovizArk Take!!! | Welcome to Moviz Ark!·

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