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

Posted on February 6, 2013

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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.

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