Baazaar (2018) Review!!!

Synopsis – After moving to Mumbai, an ambitious young man becomes the stock trader for a notorious businessman.

My Take – For a cinema lover any reference to stock exchange brings two particular films in mind, one being the 1987 released Wall Street, which scored Michael Douglas his Oscar for Best Actor, and the 2013 released The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But it’s astounding to think that for a country where the stock market plays such an important role in its developing economy, not a single Indian film comes to mind that is based on the plunging dips and rises of the futures exchange. That is until debutante director Gauravv K. Chawla‘s much delayed film finally hit the scene last Friday.

A localized take on Wall Street set in Dalal Street, this promising film pushes you into the semi-dark world of Mumbai’s stockbrokers and takes us through a guide and protégé story which pits greed and ambition against morality and redemption. While the fast-paced narrative makes you admire the effort put into making the film quiet accessible to almost anyone, it also leaves you wondering if this could have been a better film with a better script. While the film succeeds in capturing the aspirations of the current generation, it fails to offer anything that we haven’t already seen in dozens of other films. Moreover, it doesn’t treat its subject with the gravity it deserves. By reducing the share market to a tussle between mathematics and emotions, the film ends up overlooking the underlying complexity that governs the trading world.

A film like one is expected to be a cerebral game of ever increasing odds but what we are ultimately served with is a dialogue-heavy potboiler high on drama and histrionics. However, the film does earn its credit where it’s due, i.e. in spite of obvious Hollywood influences and tropes of the financial thriller, director Chawla manages to construct a largely engaging thriller and keeps you glued for entirety of its run time. While the film may not capture the breathlessness of the volatile stock market, it does present an interesting dynamic between mentor and mentee uplifted superb turns coming from Saif Ali Khan and debutante Rohan Mehra.

The story follows Rizwan Ahmed (Rohan Mehra), a young graduate from the Allahabad University who tired of his small life comes to Mumbai with dream of making it big in the stock market. Like most dreamers of his generation he too idolizes, Shakun Kothari (Saif Ali Khan), a malevolent Gujarati businessman, who is a dubious figure in the ever-exciting world of share market sharks. Coming from a poverty-stricken background, Shakun has been on a rampage for years to mark his surname as amongst the few famous names in the country. While he is loathed by his business associates for his underhand methods, Shakun doesn’t care two hoots about it. Extremely manipulative, calculative and shrewd Shakun lets nothing come in between him and his profits!

Quickly joining a capital investing company as a trader as soon as he gets to Mumbai, Rizwan’s only goal is to get on Shakun’s radar and impress him enough to work with/for him. After successfully maneuvering a couple of sticky situations, like challenging a big investor in a toilet, along with a little help from colleague and girlfriend Priya (Radhika Apte), the small town boy finally manages to get his attention. And it’s not long before Rizwan moves from a tenement to a luxury high rise, and is enjoying weekends at the Kothari family’s beach house in the company of Shakun’s long-suffering wife Mandira (Chitrangda Singh) and their children.

Together, the idol and the ambitious protégé set out on a path of deceits, quick rupees and cheating lovers. But as the greedy and manipulative world of money, power and the stock market draws in Rizwan faster, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is tightening its net around Shakun, as all office Rana Dasgupta (Manish Chaudhary) needs is a crucial piece of evidence that will prove insider trading and corruption from his camp.

Here, the film basically focuses strongly on the aspects like ‘Greed’ and ‘Prioritizing Money over Everything’. It deals with the share market which makes it totally different from ordinary Bollywood stories filled with romance, family drama etc. But it’s the slickness on display, the solid performances and the occasionally sharp dialogue ensure that despite its utter predictability, the film is rarely dull. Though the first half of the film drags without any real inciting moments, merely establishing the characters by throwing light on Rizwan’s determination to make it big in Mumbai, as well as, Shakun’s manipulative and clever mind and his ability to turn any situation in his favor, it is the second half that makes you remain glued to your seat with its gripping and edgy screenplay, which despite being predictive, manages to be thrilling.

Director Gauravv K Chawla’s saga of the wolf of Dalal Street wants to be that zeitgeist film that holds a mirror to the times (accordingly, shiny surfaces abound) and the film is on point about the cult of greed that is one of Mumbai’s contributions to the Indian imagination. While these two ambitious men share an obvious mentor-protégé relationship, they also share another bond. Both come from humble backgrounds. So while Kothari sees his past in his young protégé, Rizwan sees his future in his rich and powerful mentor. This makes them natural rivals. But their methods vary greatly. For Kothari business is all about mathematical calculations but Rizwan’s decisions are driven by emotions. When the two ideologies operate in tandem it creates synergy but what happens when they clash? The film tries to address this ideological clash, among other things.

The glimpses into Shakun’s character yield some of the best sequences, including the reason for why the man accustomed to high living regularly visits a dumpy eatery. He hates the food, he says, but he never wants to forget how horrible it tastes. Here, Saif has been given a well-carved character to play with.

Shakun Kothari’s humble origin, greed for profit and penchant for unethical means all get conveyed right in the opening scene. Shakun Kothari’s early on grouping in the film happens in a religious set up; a glaring difference from the individual that the heartless Gujarati agent is. Inside a range of only ten minutes – joined by a clever youth story – we are all around familiar with the tainted driving force who claims a domain worth INR 5000 crore. Though over-dramatic, it sets the mood. The writers—Aseem Arora, Parvez Sheikh and Nikhhil Advani—introduce us to Shakun’s ways through his gestures. He doesn’t do the obvious. For instance, though his relationship with his ‘sophisticated’ wife Mandira is strained, he doesn’t hold hands of other women to make her uncomfortable. Similarly, when called a fraud, he gets really furious and reminds the other person of their own unscrupulous methods. He knows what others think of him but he is at peace with it till the time his profits are growing. That way, it’s a role with great potential and Saif is out there to explore it.

Here, director Gauravv Chawla also makes sure that the viewers get a hang of the murky world of stocks and shares. He does a pretty decent job at explaining stock market jargon and showcasing complex ideas like insider trading and financial manipulation. The film also earns points in employs some interesting camera play that tries to push the boundaries as far as commercial Hindi cinema is concerned. Also, at various points in the film, the fourth wall gets broken as Rizwan directly addresses the camera, sharing his thoughts and dilemmas with the audiences—an old narrative trope for Hollywood standards but still a novelty for Indian films.

Sure the film is predictable and does take a lot of time in bringing the mentor and the protégée together, but what really hampers the narrative’s flow is the director’s love for melodrama, oddly-timed twists and glossy songs. Without them, the film could have been a much sleeker and a lot more gripping story of insatiable greed.

Thankfully a film like this one works on performances and fortunately the actors don’t disappoint. As we have come to expect from him now, Saif Ali Khan is as always outstanding. This is without a doubt his most gloriously written and performed part, meaty witty and wicked. Holding the film together with his conniving charm, here, Saif slips into Gujju-fications with the unrehearsed cuteness of tycoon, who has long ceased to be cute to everyone, including his own wife and children. He chews into every scene exposing a sacred hunger that I didn’t notice in his last outings. Rohan Mehra makes a highly impressive debut & delivers a good performance. Though his character arc is unidirectional, he appears at ease.

Radhika Apte has a very limited screen presence but is as usual good, though we’ve seen better of her. The same goes for Chitrangada Singh, who despite looking prettier than ever, does not have much to do. The ever-brilliant Manish Choudhary also manages to excel in his small role. On the whole, ‘Baazaar’ is an engaging film which despite it predictable plot deserves a watch for Saif Ali Khan’s terrific performance.

Directed – Gauravv K. Chawla

Starring – Radhika Apte, Saif Ali Khan, Chitrangda Singh

Rated – PG15

Run Time – 137 minutes

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