A barely believable legal thriller that just about qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Plus, a barely believable domestic thriller.
SEPT 6, 2009 – IS ARJUN RAMPAL MASALA-MOVIE MATERIAL? For those who’ve spent sleepless nights pondering this conundrum, Fox provides the answer: most certainly not. The actor plays Arjun, a criminal lawyer who, for a hefty price, saves the sinners – and the minute I heard a television reporter describe the as-yet-unseen hero as a “mujrimon ka maseeha,” I perked up. What a fabulously tawdry descriptor! However will they dream up a “hero introduction shot” that does it full justice, especially now that the true masters of that kind of cinema (say, Subhash Ghai) are left licking the wounds inflicted by our newfound multiplex mentality? Alas, the unveiling of the protagonist, in a courtroom, occurs not with a bang but an anticlimactic whimper. Forget fire and brimstone – when we first set eyes on Arjun, he defends his guilty client with a lazy drawl you’d associate with the reading of the proverbial phonebook.
Perhaps it’s because this dude-generation star had to wrap his mouth around old-Bollywood constructs like “Donon humbistar hue” (which is legalese for, you know, “they did it”), and he was trying to keep a straight face. In the next shot, in the courthouse corridors, the victim’s distraught mother grabs Arjun by his robe and shakes him hard, letting loose a volley of entirely justified abuse. That’s the one time Rampal registers an expression, and I think it’s because he was terrified his fright-wig might fall off. The true test of his masala-movie worthiness, however, doesn’t occur until much later, when his girlfriend (Sagarika Ghatge) teases him in the kitchen. She tears up a piece of roti, instructs him to open his mouth, as if to feed him, and then pops the morsel in her mouth instead. Where a Rajesh Khanna’s eyes would have twinkled with merriment and tided us over this romantic cliché, Rampal just sits there, vaguely embarrassed.
That’s what separates the single-screen men from the multiplex boys – and beneath its shiny veneer, Fox is an old-fashioned single-screen movie, sculpted out of equal parts the morality tale and the vigilante thriller. (Had the director Deepak Tijori pulled this off, and with a more empathetic protagonist, we might have witnessed the equivalent of a Shankar entertainer with existential heft – a fast-paced meditation on whether even reformed sinners should have to pay for their wrongdoings.) This, in other words, is a movie for men, he-men like the cop played by Sunny Deol (looking a little washed up; then again, he too is a casualty of our multiplex mentality), who arrests Arjun when the latter is framed for a series of murders. (Udita Goswami is also in there somewhere, as the head of a publishing house who, in a pinch, can fill in as item girl.)
With that title, with this cast, you certainly don’t expect a good movie – but even as a bad movie, you wonder if it’s going to be guilty-pleasure bad, or if it will be one of those truly awful films that leaves you squirming in your seat and cursing your choice of profession. Fortunately, Fox leans towards the former. I’ll leave you with two “touches” that delighted me endlessly. In the midst of a shootout, a corner of the screen bears the text, “Malad, 11:30 a.m.” (It’s priceless, this sort of nod towards “real time” in a revenge fantasy this far-fetched; the text could have read “Alpha Centauri, one million AD” and the audience wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.) Better yet, Tijori goes all arty as he shoots his hero with a handheld camera. He wants to mirror Arjun’s jittery crisis of conscience – but also, with his hero not twitching a muscle, he perhaps decided that at least the camera should be allowed to get away with a scenery-chewing masala-movie performance.
VISHAL PANDYA’S THREE – LOVE, LIES, BETRAYAL is one of those twisty, house-in-the-middle-of-nowhere thrillers, where the director doesn’t yell “Action!” so much as “One, two, three… heave!” as he labours to yank the rug from under our feet. Considering it has to do with adultery (along with the other noble emotions in the title), you expect unclad couples thrashing about like eels in an oil slick, as designer candles flicker and soothing songs play in the background. (This is from Vikram Bhatt, after all, and the music by Chirantan Bhatt certainly sparkles.) But Pandya decides that his aims are higher than just delivering a bunch of gotcha! tricks – he opts for tony understatement. He wants to make everything hushed and classy and actorly, which is certainly not the way to go when your cast consists of Akshay Kapoor, Nausheen Ali Sardar and a hysterical Ashish Chowdhry. The feeble stabs at noir come too late – the audience, by then, is well past slumber.
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