A wronged man goes on a killing spree in a fairly gripping quasi-vigilante thriller. Plus, a rom-com with little rom, little com.
JULY 20, 2008 – AS HIS NAME SUGGESTS, Aman (Adhvik Mahajan) wants nothing but peace – even on television. During the course of an otherwise unremarkable evening, his wife Divya (Amrita Khanvilkar) stumbles on a news report of terrorist blasts in Delhi, and like any concerned citizen she begins to make the right noises, saying she cannot understand what’s going on or how such things could happen. Aman simply tells her to watch something else. “Channel badlo aur MTV dekho.” If we hadn’t seen those early shots of him being cuffed and carted away to prison, we’d never guess there’s more to the man – that he’s undergone commando training, or that he’s won several medals for bravery while in the army. Now, he’s just a guy who wants to pick out nice jewellery for his wife and build sandcastles with his young daughter. He just wants the tranquil existence of what he likes to call an aam aadmi: a common man.
But brooding men with lethal skills aren’t likely to be left alone to pursue their dreams of idle domesticity – especially in the movies – and soon enough, a Special Cell cop named Ahmed (Prasad Purandhare, in a wonderfully understated portrayal of a person in power) walks into Aman’s home (and, gradually, into Aman’s life). Ahmed wants Aman to infiltrate the underworld, and track down and kill Sultan (Zakir Hussain), the terrorist responsible for those Delhi blasts. As these men discuss these matters in private, Ram Gopal Varma takes care to include Divya and her daughter in the frame, as if to inform us that there’s always the larger picture, that what Ahmed and Aman are talking about doesn’t concern them alone, that the ripples of their decisions will ricochet through the people around. And sure enough, Aman – who politely declines Ahmed’s offer – subsequently loses his family in a terrorist attack.
He barges into the police station in a blind rage, demanding a meeting with Ahmed – the very Ahmed whom he turned away earlier, and who’s wearing a chilly smile now, saying he feels no sympathy whatsoever for Aman’s plight. After all, what makes his loss so special? His wife and child are just like those people who died earlier in Delhi, anonymous martyrs to a terrorist cause, the information about whose deaths would now likely be causing some other apathetic husband in some other household to suggest changing the TV channel. They’re merely the latest statistic supporting the ominous line that opened the film: “You may ignore terrorism, but terrorism won’t ignore you.” And so it does seem, for a while, that Contract is going to shape up into the underworld-meets-terrorism saga that Varma kept hinting at in his promotional interviews.
But those lofty ambitions fall quickly by the wayside and it soon becomes clear that Contract is nothing more than a macho B-movie in the vein of James. (I was one of the five people in the country who actually enjoyed that explosion of testosterone, so I’m guessing this review is essentially for those four other people.) There’s nothing in Contract to indicate that it’s a part of Varma’s continuing exploration of the Mumbai underworld, and if you had to box three of these films into a loose trilogy, D would be a better candidate to round out the themes that began with Satya and continued through Company. What we have here is some sort of vigilante movie – a fairly gripping one – that just happens to be set against the backdrop of the underworld, as Aman takes up Ahmed’s offer and avenges himself. Contract is Drohkaal refashioned as personal vendetta; where that film offered a hero who was fighting for the greater good of the nation, Aman here (at least till an ill-advised coda that suggests otherwise) is simply out to get the man who made sure that he would never again build sandcastles with his daughter.
And true to the tropes of the macho B-movie, we have the following: Aman finding increasingly glamorous ways to dispatch various bad guys standing between him and Sultan; the cheerful idiocy of an Oriental henchman displaying a variety of chopsocky moves, only to be informed that this isn’t the age of Bruce Lee but of Osama; the going into the lion’s den, the villain’s sister falling for the hero, the orgy of drunken revelry that ends in a shootout; the “comedy track” with a gangster who lives at sea so that no one can get near him without his knowledge (plus, he has a wife who chimes in with abhangs as he takes a shower and simultaneously participates in a discussion about wiping out a rival gangster).
Of course, with Varma behind the scenes, there’s more texture and detail than in the olden-day khoon-pee-jaaoonga guilty pleasures. There’s, for instance, the offhand question Ahmed asks Aman about his religious beliefs, when Aman replies that he hasn’t given it much thought. This adds nothing to the story; it’s just there, a dangling glimmer of insight into a man who’s not going to reach out and open himself up for our understanding. And for those who care for such things as faces unadorned by attitude and artifice, there’s a gallery of great supporting actors. Just how does Varma alone manage to find these people to populate his films with? Sumeet Nijhawan, Upendra Limaye, Kishore Kadam and Amruta Subhash steal their scenes with such flourish, they almost make you overlook Adhvik Mahajan’s sullen study in monochrome.
The actor has a single scene where he shows a bit of what Aman is made of, when he’s given a bear hug and he can’t bring himself to reciprocate; he just stands there stiffly, arms hanging awkwardly by his side. Otherwise, he’s mostly a gruff blank slate in the manner of Mohit Ahlawat in James. But Sakshi Gulati pitches in an unexpectedly decent performance as Iya, the bad girl who falls for Aman and who, in the film’s most surreal touch, brings back a song that was heard earlier, after the demise of Aman’s family. It’s Twinkle twinkle little star, set to a funeral rhythm and sung by a child, and the effect is that of Aman’s daughter singing to him from the afterlife. (The additional lyrics are along the lines of, “Ek bomb lagaana maangta hai, bhai.”) If there is something to Iya’s inexplicable association with this number, I’m afraid it escaped me – but trust Varma to distort a beloved nursery rhyme into an eerie echo of doom.
IF THE PREFERRED TONE OF A ROMANTIC COMEDY is light and breezy, Aziz Mirza’s Kismat Konnection makes you feel you’re under a ten-ton block of concrete, trapped in a joyless world where boring things keep happening to boring people. Raj (Shahid Kapur, in an unbearably fussy performance when all he needed to do was be, like in Jab We Met) is an underachiever who thinks Priya (Vidya Balan, who’s not bad) is his good luck charm. His attempts to use her to further his career bring to mind the innocent wheedling of Shah Rukh Khan in Mirza’s earlier Yes Boss, which was infinitely more charming than this miscalculated mix of sophomoric comedy, dreary battle-of-the-sexes banter and a dreadful climax featuring a deus ex machina that would be booed out of elementary screenwriting class. Setting up the element of chance that runs through the film, we’re told at the beginning, “Life is like a game of cards.” Yeah, and sometimes, the audiences end up jokers.
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