Daring ideas. Chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they start a winning game.
I’ve heard a lot about this movie.
And to lay my biases on the table, I’m a sucker for mysteries and the whodunit genre. Watching my guesses and second-guesses get stripped naked by a well-crafted, slickly executed drama has become something of an addiction to me- a delicious wine I cannot forgo. Indeed, this inclination towards the Unknown has compelled me to sugar-coat my opinions on fiascoes like “The Xpose”, and has turned into an irresistible obsession over time. Add to this obsession two veterans of Indian cinema- one quietly estranged, the other maniacally intriguing- and I’ll pass up my date for a watch. Well, not really…but you get the picture.
It is, therefore, no surprise that I find myself locked up in the gilded cage that’s gonna show me just how the first ever Farhan-Amitabh starrer stacks up against the hey-ho that has surrounded it ever since its first teaser hit the web. Bathing in popcorn and palpable excitement, I grab my seat as the surprisingly enjoyable national anthem comes to an end, waiting for the much-hyped-about psychological drama to unfold. The anthem has taken up exactly 53 seconds, and I fervently hope the movie will be just as merciful in its length, for Bollywood has an annoying habit of stretching its thrillers to breaking point, explaining every plot twist in monosyllables so that even a three-year old sitting in the auditorium can have an “a-ha!” moment.
Post an obligatory text-on-black-screen sequence (containing a Special Thanks to Rajkumar Hirani, which makes me literally jump up and down with joy), the screen brightens, the lights dim- well no, they actually go off like the Projector guy just tripped over the plug in excitement; can’t blame him- the film finally opens with the name splashed across a torrential downpour-Wazir. Finally.
Wait- is the projector malfunctioning? Did the idiot spill coffee on the machine? Or am I wearing omnioculars? Something’s wrong…no movie can possibly open with a slo-mo shot. Once I’ve shaken my head and pinched myself enough times to assess the reality of the situation, however, I have to admit- this is what you call well-begun. The trailers mostly focused on the bloodbathing side of the movie, and as an early warning to leave all cliched expectations with the usher outside, the director chooses to begin this thriller with a shy Farhan Akhtar smiling into the lowered gaze of his future wife, (the screen name escapes me) played by Aditi Rao Hydari.
“Ladki dekhne aaya hai”.
As a beginning dose of amplifying surprise, the director thus puts forth a brilliantly-shot slow-motion sequence that tells us the tale of Farhan’s marriage to Aditi, their post-matrimonium euphoria, and the birth of their first child, all wrapped up and done within five minutes. Just to put that in perspective, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun gobbled up three whole hours to narrate the exact same storyline. Way to go, Barjatiya.
This light, breezy phase of happiness, however, is soon overpowered by impending grief, as the first tragedy of the lot strikes the chirpy family. This is also where, sadly, the film’s first major plothole makes an appearance. Farhan Akhtar (who’s also an ATS officer) engages in a wild chase for a criminal he spots seated in a car in front of him. This might sound like the proverbial ‘brave thing’ to do- only, it’s not quite as brave as it is plain stupid. Farhan starts chasing the criminal with his little daughter sitting in the back seat of the car. I watch, terrified, as the pair of vehicles twists and turns and zips through town, a poker-face Farhan ignoring the frightened shrieks of the little girl at the back, desperately fumbling with the seat-belt.
Why? He looked like a nice, responsible government officer who did his duty with diligence, staunchly led the family at all times, and maybe engaged in a few juvenile antics when his wife pulled out a camera. How he could’ve just gone all Salman-y in front of the villain and put his daughter in mortal danger fails me. And just when I think he couldn’t get any less Farhan-ish, he does the mother of all naivety by getting involved in a shootout with the enemy. Needless to say, and quite unexpected from the thoughtful, sensitive guy I thought I knew from a few minutes ago- Farhan’s daughter is killed. I sit back in my chair and hastily check my ticket in the light of the screen, to make sure I walked into the right auditorium. In an overwhelming feeling of disbelief akin to watching Tobey Maguire break into a dance in the middle of Spiderman 3, I earnestly, earnestly pray for the movie to get better with each passing second. I’m also starting to feel daggers for Bejoy Nambiar. It takes a hundred years of waiting to get a Farhan-Amitabh starrer on the table, and he shall NOT screw it up.
Thankfully, Nambiar ups the gear after getting into his own skin. The kinks tighten; the turns get trickier; the plot morphs from the dreamlike whimsy of its early moments to the delicious, nasty revenge saga it’s meant to be. With an appreciatively slick and terribly scored montage, Farhan learns chess under the guidance of a wheelchaired grandmaster Omkar Nath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan), and becomes friends with him so quickly it’s obvious this particular move is gonna pay off well in the finale. The problem, or as I put it, the “meat” of the thriller comes to the fore when both of the buddies divulge their traumatised past and bond over the common loss of loved ones. For yes, both of them have lost their daughter, Amitabh having also lost his wife in a car accident that bred out of his own recklessness. I don’t know, imagining a reckless Amitabh is just psychologically impossible for me, like trying to imagine the fourth dimension or a young Albus Dumbledore.
Whatever, the film hurtles to a dramatic crescendo when Amitabh throws a shoe at the politician Yazaad Qureshi, (Manav Kaul, predictably villainous), who he suspects of having killed his daughter. He gets brutally reprimanded for the same by an anonymous hitman who, under the alias of Wazir, breaks into his home at night, burns down his wheelchair and threatens to murder him if he doesn’t stop his harmful advances on the innocent politician. Ohp, and he’s laughing his head off all the time, because to create a convincing thriller without at least one deranged owl guffawing maniacally and doing evil stuff would mean the death of what Bollywood prides itself in- hamming. We break for the interval with Amitabh’s housemaid kneeling beside her injured employer, asking him who’s responsible for his condition, and the latter slowly pointing towards a large stone Vizier placed in the courtyard. So far, so good.
Post-interval is when the director becomes alarmingly empty of imagination. He makes the intriguing, if not dramatically gripping, thriller fizzle out into a petty cat-and-mouse chase, minus the irresistible hilarity that propelled Tom and Jerry to evergreen fame. In swift succession, Farhan starts receiving death threats from the unknown Wazir, witnesses the death of Amitabh (yes, Big B dies), and goes all-out James Bond in locating the corrupt politician who’s now flown to Kashmir. In an absolutely un-special “special appearance”, John Abraham aids our hero in completing his mission, and in the process willingly goes against an army of his own men so the agonized father can get to his daughter’s culprit. And oh, he gets to him. After outwitting his personal bodyguards through a smoke-screen. One-nil to amazing Indian ATS. Good hero kills shitty villain and exposes his corruptness to the world. The End.
Or is it? For precisely when my crippled mind has lost almost all hope of ever getting anything useful out of this glossy excuse for a thriller, the director pulls off his last twist on the audience. A twist that blows your minds away, that turns the whole movie on its head; a twist that almost redeems all that I had to go through during the previous half hour, a twist that finally adds up to the huge box office collections this movie is receiving. Being the snob that I am, and ostensibly to preserve any leftover suspense the movie may claim after my review, and also through moral obligation to the director who’s essentially the reason I took a few hours off my (ahem) busy schedule and actually did something productive-I won’t reveal to you what the twist is. But take it from a thriller geek- days after coming out of the theatre, you’ll remember the twist as a complete savior to an otherwise doomed flick, and almost won’t regret spending your rupees on the ticket and the popcorn and the coke for getting the opportunity to witness what could be called Tintin’s The Castafiore Emerald in reverse- the latter being a comic that begins and progresses as a thickly-layered, tightly plotted detective story, only for the cartoonist to screw it up completely through an unbelievably juvenile climax, instantly turning it into a hilarious parody. In comparison, Bejoy Nambiar’s experiment starts off okay, progresses teeth-on-edge shitty, and yet manages to deliver an admittedly unforeseen solution.
Wazir is, thus, not a movie- it’s an awesome plot idea the filmmakers were just too lazy to develop. That the crux of the movie- the two veteran actors bearing the weight of the entire plotline on their shoulders- haven’t got enough material to work with is a pity. Farhan is relatively fresh, carrying the classic thick-skinned-daddy role with enough panache to come through as memorable. Sadly, though not completely surprisingly, it is Mr. Bachchan who feels strenuously repetitive in yet another crazy-smart-old-guy rendition that suspiciously feels like an extension of his own Bhashkor Da from 2015’s breezy comedy-drama Piku, save his emotional damage in this one. If any offence be excused, one only needs to kill Deepika’s character in Piku for turning the whimsical Bengali father into the devious plotter he plays in Wazir. Neil Nitin Mukesh jumps up and down and overacts like hell; just in case Anees Bazmee sitting in the audience decides to cast him for Ready 2, looking horribly out of place in a role that (spoiler alert) wasn’t even needed for plot advancement. John Abraham slips in and out of screen without second impression, and Aditi Rao Hydari is there just to provide another layer of emotional turmoil to our already angsty characters.
The real heroes of the movie are the cinematography which, although a little melodramatic at times, forms a solid backbone that more than compensates for the half-baked storyline. The other hero, and possibly the protagonist of this game, is the superb direction which portrays the delicate interactions between the well-formed characters with surprising impact. The music is worth a passing mention; with songs like Tere bin leaving some impact upon the mind. The background score effectively complements and supports the movie through and through; for immediate instance, an hour into the film, just before Bachchan’s van blows up, you get a half-second of cinematic silence that presses on your eardrums before the terrific blast floods the screen with an ocean of flames and smoke and anguished cries. Khel Khel Mein is worth special mention here. It is a magnificent poem that brings out the fickle nature of a game of chess with striking sardony. It is also a poem that is tragically wasted in a silly song in the middle of the movie. They should release a ‘Bachchan Recites’ version of it, though. Might add to the filmmakers’ income just in case this review tightened their pockets.
In the end, though, every chessboard has black and white. Wazir, while having its share of not-so-forgivable flaws, is an interesting and daring experiment that might just kickstart the trend of short Agatha-style thrillers in the coming months. Watch it for the direction, the camera, Farhan’s menacing stares, and the ending. You won’t regret it.
Unless you passed up a date for it, of course.