In Nikhil Advani’s D-Day, Rishi Kapoor plays India’s most wanted man as a fleshy gangster with a stick-on moustache and pink sunglasses – a jowly Buddha set loose in a Boogie Nights bar. My first impulse was to giggle, and my second was to set about answering the question, Why is Rishi Kapoor, who was so chilling as the villain in Aurangzeb, so out of place here, as if dressed up as Dawood Ibrahim for a Bollywood-themed NRI party? Could it be the fact that we never see his eyes, and that one of his opponents is played by Irrfan, whose unconcealed face, with its myriad emotions, steers his character right into our hearts? You need all your weapons when Irrfan is on the other side, and when the windows to your soul are tinted in Rooh Afza shades, you’re disarmed right there. What a film this might have been had there been an antagonist to rival the protagonist – and yet, it speaks of Advani’s skills that he still manages to pull together a fairly gripping thriller.
D-Day is Hindi cinema’s answer to Munich, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo… all those films where committed professionals, patriots all, risk everything for the sake of their nation. Only here, there’s no significant politics at play. This is simply a high-minded masala movie – all we’re asked to care about is the capture of Iqbal Seth and his return to India. (He’s in Karachi, under the army’s watchful eye; there goes the Pakistani box office.) The set-up is terrific. In a long stretch propelled by constant cross-cutting and a throbbing score, we see Wali Khan (Irrfan) and his cohorts – Rudra (Arjun Rampal), Zoya (Huma Qureshi) and Aslam (Aakash Daahiya) – sneak into the wedding of Seth’s son and attempt to abduct the big man himself. They almost succeed, and at one point, Rudra has Seth staring into the barrel of his revolver. “Trigger kheench, maamla mat kheench,” snarls Seth, but their mission is to bring him back alive, and Rudra hesitates. That split second proves costly, and the quartet, subsequently, finds itself disowned by India, hunted by Pakistan. Best laid plans, etcetera.
After that first half-hour or so, the film turns somewhat slack, saddling its professionals with hints of a personal life at stake. At least the subplot with Wali Khan and his family, wife (a superb newcomer named Shriswara) and young son, has direct bearing on the events, but the other episodes are just filler, meant to make us feel more for these characters, when their dangerous mission is itself fodder for more than enough feeling. Zoya, it turns out, has a husband stashed away somewhere, but she barely seems to register the fact – we begin to feel that the character may have been served better without a backstory. (Though this detour does result in the film’s funniest moment, when he calls to wish her on their anniversary just as she’s unpacking bombs.) And Rudra’s army-honed toughness is softened when he falls for a prostitute (Shruti Hassan), and don’t you know it, they have matching scars – a crescent-shaped cut runs across her cheek, and the skin over his stomach is maimed by what looks like a stab wound. What is it about these films that rootless men always fall for streetwalkers with hearts of gold?
But I readily forgave Advani his clichés, if only because he takes that biggest of clichés – the sad song that plays after the loss of a loved one – and spins gold from it. The picturisation of Alvida is a revelation, and it’s possibly the most inventively staged song sequence since the shootout in Agent Vinod. As the survivor follows a trail of gruesome clues, the tragedy is reenacted in front of his eyes – and she looks into his eyes – as we cut back (a bottle is broken on her head) and forth (he steps on shattered glass). The action scenes aren’t as anywhere as imaginative, but they serve their purpose, even if the logistics (and sometimes the chronology of events) are puzzling. (For four wanted people, they sure get around enemy territory with ease, commandeering vehicles and weaponry.) D-Day, finally, is yet another showcase for Irrfan, and I cannot think of too many actors, offhand, who can pull off his brusque admission that he’s in no state to think about other people’s troubles. It’s not a wail, a mere statement of fact. An honest performance can go a long way in plugging a movie’s holes.
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