A sorry thriller is further reminder of Akshaye Khanna’s strange passion for projects that aren’t worth his time or ours.
JULY 20, 2007 – THE NEXT TIME someone tells you there’s no truth in advertising, just point their attention towards Naqaab, which is billed as The Most Shocking Thriller Of The Year. Indeed, just about everything in it is shocking – the performances, the direction, the thrills, the romance, the various technical departments (I challenge you to find me a more drably shot film this year), the costumes (clearly, the end of the Govinda era did not mean the end of heroines stepping out in red gloves made of pantyhose material) – but most shocking of all is the presence of Akshaye Khanna in what appears to be his 75th inexplicable career choice. So the man’s got to eat, you say – but wouldn’t the terrible trio of 36 China Town, Shaadi Se Pehle and Aap Ki Khatir alone (and all in a single year) have given him the resources to breakfast on truffles and caviar for the rest of his life? In an early scene, his character Vicky is dining at a restaurant, when the floorshow emcee stops by the table adjacent to his and informs the just-engaged Sophie (Urvashi Sharma) about an ancient Egyptian custom, that she can pick any man around for one-last-dance-with-a-stranger-before-marriage. (Interesting people, those Egyptians!) She chooses Akshaye, and I’m fairly sure her choice had less to do with charisma than compassion for a slumming co-star. (At least she’s a newcomer trying to make a mark in big, bad Bollywood. What’s his excuse for signing on after reading this script?)
Naqaab begins with Sophie being filmed with a camcorder, and it moves on to Vicky and Sophie being filmed with a camcorder, and it moves on to Karan (Bobby Deol) being filmed with a camcorder, and this goes on till you begin to wonder if this movie is a result of the collaboration between Sony and YouTube. But no – this movie is a result of the collaboration between Abbas and Mustan, who’ve officially christened themselves the Director Duo, which may be a cue for us to thank heavens for small mercies. (If it took two people to concoct something this horrific, how much worse would we have suffered with just one of them behind the scenes?) Only one thing matters for Abbas-Mustan, and that’s to go against audience expectations. Now this, usually, is a good thing in a thriller, but the way these directors go about it is to pile on ridiculous twists and turns that exist solely because you wouldn’t have seen them coming – twists and turns like (wait for this!) Bobby Deol being feted at Cannes. You’d think this actor could sink no further this year after Shakalaka Boom Boom, but he keeps discovering extraordinarily creative ways to lower the bar for himself, which may be his little contribution to going against audience expectations after a pleasantly surprising turn in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
The story has something to do with the complications that ensue when Sophie, who’s all set to marry Karan, falls for Vicky. Karan, apparently, is the epitome of class because his idea of a romantic evening is to curl up with his woman in front of a home entertainment system that’s playing Pather Panchali. Vicky, on the other hand, thinks it’s entirely appropriate for wine to be drunk out of beer mugs. Poor Sophie, therefore, is trapped in a situation that no young woman should find herself in, having to decide between a guy whose idea of showing a girl a good time is to subject her to Indian neorealism (just imagine their future dates: holding hands in front of Bhuvan Shome, kissing during Uski Roti, and getting it on five minutes into Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan) and a guy who may cause social embarrassment. (It doesn’t help Vicky’s cause that when he makes love to Sophie, it’s with the kind of fervour that makes it appear he’d rather be watching back-to-back screenings of Aap Kaa Surroor.) But before Sophie can make up her mind about which one’s the lesser evil, the trademark Abbas-Mustan twists set in, leading to what may be the only instance of suicide in the movies where the act of pulling the trigger on a gun positioned inside one’s mouth results in an explosion of grape juice concentrate from the back of the head. The sole point of interest in Naqaab is its leggy heroine, who looks like what would have resulted had Pooja Batra, Udita Goswami and Isha Sharvani had gotten together and decided to make a baby – maybe on a revolving water-bed, preferably to the accompaniment of disco lights and a thumpa-thumpa soundtrack. Unfortunately, even holding this image in your head through its two-odd hour duration doesn’t make Naqaab any more bearable.
Copyright ©2007 The New Indian Express