“David”… The Good, the Okay, and the Ugly

Just how might Bejoy Nambiar, the director of the tripartite feature David, have convinced a huge star like Vikram to take on what is essentially a supporting actor’s part? (Even if Vikram is the star of his segment in this film, which tells the interleaved stories of three different men named David, in three different places.) Well, here’s a theory. “Remember all those times, as a hero, you were straightjacketed into doing the right thing?” Nambiar might have said. “Well, here you get to do all the wrong things, which you’ll never get away with in a solo-hero movie. You get to stick a funnel in your mouth and drain bottles of whiskey and soda. In fact, you’re pretty much smashed in every scene. And where else will you get to play an amiable loser whose wife has run away? Tamil cinema will skewer a hero who’s been emasculated thus. And to top it all, you fall in love with your best friend’s fiancée.”

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What may have won Vikram over completely is the sock in the jaw he gets to plant on a harridan, which feels like gloriously pent-up revenge for years of having to worship womanhood, hewing to Tamil cinema’s notions of thaaikulam. And she even speaks with a Tamilian accent. I don’t think I’ve seen Vikram have so much fun. His story is set in Goa, and he has for company the friend’s fiancée Roma (Isha Sharvani, in only the second movie that makes good use of her, after Luck by Chance), his conscience-keeper and massage-parlour owner Frenny (Tabu), a mother (Rubi Chakravarti) who wants him remarried pronto, and a long-deceased father (Saurabh Shukla) who just can’t seem to stay dead. What he doesn’t have is a story, and this aimlessness makes these portions, set in Goa, the film’s most delightful. Will David find it in himself to screw his friend over and make a move on Roma?

Or, to put it differently, will he be able to prove wrong the film’s thesis: Galat kabhi sahi nahin ho sakta? The other two Davids find themselves in similar soups – the one in London (Neil Nitin Mukesh, landing, after ages, a role that plays to his strengths) may have to assassinate a father figure named Iqbal Ghani (Akarsh Khurana), and the one in Mumbai (Vinay Virmani), a dreadlocked dude, is looking to avenge the insult to his father (Nasser) by an opportunistic, spittle-spraying politician (Rohini Hattangadi). Given its focus on three men dealing with their inner devils, this movie too could have been named Shaitan, and here too Nambiar comes off more super-cool technician than storyteller. Elsewhere, we may complain that the raw power of these three stories is diluted by the seductive music-video approach, but in David, the style is part of the substance. Scene after scene is so thrillingly shot and staged that the film could have worked without sound.

Nambiar shoots the most ordinary things in most extraordinary ways. (Or you could say he finds the extraordinary in the ordinary.) When we stumble on Frenny and David on opposite sides of the iron bars of a jail cell, the angle of the shot makes it unclear who’s in, who’s out. A more mature filmmaker may have used this to make a bigger point, and here it’s just a moment of cool – but what a moment it is. Some small character flourishes too are done very well. I especially enjoyed the reveal about Frenny towards the end, and in London, Iqbal Ghani, who gently rebukes Noor’s (an excellent Monica Dogra) mother for wanting to marry her off against her wishes, has no qualms, later, about hitching Noor to his useless son (Neil Bhoopalam) in order to uphold family honour. Like characters in a short story, the characters here are brought alive through small, vivid brush strokes.

It’s when the canvas broadens and we are asked to care about things that matter that the film falters. Other than the existential dilemma that preys on the protagonists, there’s little that connects the three stories, and we begin to feel if the film has at least one David too many. The episode set in Mumbai, especially, never catches fire; despite a stirring David-versus-Goliath premise (yes, another David), it is the least convincing. The one in London is a little better, given the period styling (it is set in 1975; the one in Mumbai takes place in 1999, and the one in Goa in 2010) and the action-splattered plotting. At least it moves, and Mukesh and Dogra exhibit a combustible chemistry. Best to forget all the heavy-duty posturing and keep waiting for the reappearance of Vikram’s segment, filled with falling coconuts, breaking chairs, the most unwholesome use of a Santa mask, and possibly the dreamiest moonlight boat ride in Hindi cinema.

Copyright ©2013 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

22 thoughts on ““David”… The Good, the Okay, and the Ugly

  1. To me the whole problem was with the Mumbai’s David story(Mujhe jawaab chahiye !!!! wth!!!). I was never able to fully grasp the significance of the role of Lara Dutta, was she just there to break off her friendship with him towards the end and make him look more miserable?? if yes, i think her part didn’t even need to be there…
    also just wanted to know what reveal regarding Frenny are u referring to ? her married status?

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  2. Spot on!
    Loved Vikram’s David. So delightful and populated with such oddball characters, I started wanting more of it. And really, what a sense of relief it was to see Vikram exact revenge on our thaaikulam! Didn’t notice the Tamil accent though!

    Never have I liked Vikram so much since Sethu. This has made me think of becoming a fan again.
    And Bejoy seems to have convinced him not only to star in it, but produce it too.

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  3. I don;t get all the love for Bejoy Nambiar – Shaitan was good but not that good. It reminded me of Shoot em’ Up – all style (which gets boring after a while) and no substance. Looks like this is more of the same.

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  4. I saw the Tamil version and God, I haven’t seen such a passive audience EVER for a movie that stars 2 of the mass heros of present age Tamizh cinema. So, it may be said (though it may count as a spoiler) that the difference in the script between the Tamizh and Hindi versions, seems to be the deal breaker here for folks like me. Did the movie work for me? I guess, it did in parts. Vikram does certainly seem to be having the most fun in what must be an obvious hat-tip to the Hassar (in Saagar). But apart from that *and* the visual flourishes, if I may call all those slow mo shots that, there was nothing of substance in the Tamil version. And since the Hindi version is playing in Chennai only in a couple of screens (PVR and Ega?), I may have to wait for a DVD. That’s the bummer!

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  5. I was just waiting for your review Sir. Thanks for this. The most enjoyable was Vikram Tabu chemistry. Wow.. they were so endearing. Wish someone made a breezy film with this pair. Tabu shone better than most others in such a small role. Like everyone mentioned – the whole Goa – Vikram story was the most appealing and the comedy was superb.. Like Baradwaj said, the jail scene was one of the best. For a long long time I was wondering who is in and who is out? And God! how did directors miss such a skilled beauty like Isha! She did well and hope she gets better roles. The “dreamiest moonlight boat ride” sum it all..

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  6. saw it in tamil.. and hated it.. guess it works in hindi.. the lip sync was off in the goa portions.. and it was odd that everyone were speaking in tamil in goa and mumbai.. like a karan johar movie where the whole of london speaks in hindi…

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  7. Akshay Ahuja / Superstarksa: I think she was there as a parallel to the Tabu character, part shoulder to cry on, part conscience keeper. Some of the motifs were spread across a couple of stories — for instance, the religious procession in London finds a parallel in the fundamentalist procession in Mumbai, and so on.

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  8. Good point ,Kiruba.But his recent interview to rediff tells us how he arrived at the role:

    “Bejoy (Nambiar) was working with Mani sir during Ravan and he told me about David. I did not pay much attention but when I saw Bejoy’s Shaitan, I was bowled over. I called him and asked him if he still wants to do David because I was now ready. So, he did not offer me the role actually I called him to say you have that script let’s do it.

    He wanted me to do Neil’s (Nitin Mukesh) character but when I heard the whole script, I liked the character that I eventually did. Bejoy did not want me to do it; he told me it is for a character artist or a comedian. I told him that if you give me this then I will do it, otherwise I won’t do it.

    Neil’s character had a poetic slant. If I was given the choice, I would have loved to do all the three characters. In fact, I told Bejoy to let me do all three even though he had already shot Vinay Virmani’s character. Even Neil wanted to play all the three Davids.

    I would have done all the three roles showing different physical traits for all three. It would be interesting for any actor to do all the three roles.”

    ref :http://www.rediff.com/movies/slide-show/slide-show-1-vikram-david-didnt-do-good-business-in-tamil/20130206.htm#7

    Imagine it as a ‘triple role’.That would have been something,though a bit naff!!

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  9. Baradwaj: I guess, I will wait to watch the Hindi version to see how the Lara Dutta angle plays out. I see what you are saying about her. But at least in the Tamizh version, that character seems to be unceremoniously amputated from the story line. As opposed to Frenny, who stands by her friend, David completely.

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  10. Thank God, Bejoy didn’t agree to his three roles request. I am afraid that would have only added one more to the list of films like DT, Thaandavam, Kasi, etc,. where he was like Look Ma, I can do this..and this.

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  11. You are so right about the dreamiest, moonlight boat ride part! What did you think of the music though? Even though Dama dam mast Kalandar wasn’t a patch of Khoya Khoya Chaand, I thought he shows enough instances to prove his natural ability to shoot great song sequences, especially in the opening and closing song(same one).

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  12. padysrini: Why do you say complex? I thought it was one of his most straightforward films in terms of narration.

    Zico Ghosh: I thought the music in “Shaitan” was much better used. But they were also more of set pieces than what’s the case here; the songs here are more “invisible” and woven into the narrative. But that said — and as I stated in this review — his filmmaking itself has a music-video vibe, and I mean this as a compliment. Somehow he shoots these ridiculously stylish frames and cuts them MTV-style, but they don’t feel ridiculous or out of place (all that much) when you see them on screen.

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  13. If only he had not attempted to bring the stories together and left it as they were, it would have been just as good if not better. As you point out there are enough parallels in the stories anyways (the son pining for /protecting the father is another strong thread). Vikram really pulls a rabbit out of the hat with this role. Delicious role! That scene with the mom tied up is a sheer delight! And seeing Tabu here, reminds me of Maniratnam’s statement about using established actors for high impact short screen time roles. She’s fabulous, as almost always.

    But the most fun exercise I had was trying to pick a Tamizh movie that I was reminded off in every scene, especially the ones with Vikram. Vikram’s “entry scene” was mish-mash of his diving in Raavan, the beer-idly from Saami and climax song-fight sequence in Dhool. The boat ride seemed like a hat tip to “Mannipaaya” from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaya and the last scene with the “Father” is reminder of Minsara Kanavu. Of course the most randomly placed Tamizh dialogue in a hindi movie – “Ulla po” . Is this some kind of a Nambiar tribute to the commercial cinema from Kollywood in the past 2 decades or just an influence of that kind of film making? Haven’t seen Shaitan, so curious to know if there was such an overload of triggers to old movies in that as well.

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  14. Saw ‘David’ at last . Thought it is a worthy follow up to Nambiar’s absolutely brilliant ‘Shaitan’. It is very much in the genre of Amores Perros and Babel. Unlike these two and the father of all triptychs , Pulp Fiction, the three stories don’t really intersect. In fact they take place not only in three different locales but also in three different time periods. If there is anything common to the three stories, apart from the three protagonists being called David, it is the tension-filled angst of the three tales. Like in Shaitan what stands apart is the way Nambiar can create tension on screen, almost stretching it taut to breaking point, and the most creative use of music in Hindi films rivalled only by Anurag Kashyp in his Dev D and Wasseypur series. The scenes played out against Mast Kalandar as well as Ghum Huye ( with all the shoot outs, boxing bouts and pouring rain) take your breath away with their energy. The dreamy dance sequence between Vikram and Isha Shravani during the boat ride and the lovemaking scenes between Neil Nitin Mukesh and Monica Dogra to the ethereal strains of ‘Yuhin Re’ provide the softer counterpoint. The film is lifted considerably by engaging performances by all . Vikram is the most lovable with his complex-simpleton act. Hard to imagine anyone else in Bolywood pulling off a role like this. The supporting actors ranging from Tabu as the massage parlour owner to Nasser as the Mumbai David’s father to Rohini Hattangady’s Malati Tai to Ruby Chakraborty as Goa david’s mother to Sarika in a cameo singing Mast Kakandar add to the texture of the film. But in sheer atmosphere the Goa portion was unbeatable… the droll setting came into life from the very first shots with Remo doing his Mario Pitacho act. The London portion was interesting too with the air of danger, foreboding and unresolved mysteries hanging over the proceedings all the time. The Mumbai story becomes interesting on account of two unpredictable strands – the relationship of David with the Lara Dutt character, and making David ask Malati tai and her hired goon why they beat his father up rather than seek revenge or anything. Scenes like Nasser trying to scrape his face with the shaving blade to remove the trace of blackening he was subjected to, underscore the film’s gritty realism pushed a shade beyond realism to attain the palette of poetic expressionism. I absolutely love the expressionistic style of Nambiar’s filmmaking. It is impossible to tell what the film is about . Yet it is a substantial experience delivered through the stylistic mode that is the director’s very own.

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  15. I would like to see bejoy nambiar direct a script written by neeraj pandey. I watched Special 26 and wondered what the fuss is all about. I think neeraj pandey does write pretty good scripts but has ZERO visual flair and nambiar is the other way around

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  16. Pingback: Microblog #16: Notes from behind the Window | Hysteresis

  17. Spoilers ahead:

    “Reveal about Frenny” – Is it that her husband is dead, as he too is shown picking his ears at the end, similar to David’s father?

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