If you wandered into a multiplex and wanted to locate the screen on which Roy is playing, just head towards the discreet coughing. That would be the audience, after two-and-a-half hours of incessant second-hand smoking. Kabir (Arjun Rampal), Roy (Ranbir Kapoor) and assorted supporting characters are rarely seen without a cigarette (or a cigar), and when the camera isn’t focusing on their faces, we get shots of ash trays brimming with stubs. And the sound effects. Much pain has been taken to reproduce, with frightening accuracy, the sound of paper burning – that light hiss-and-crackle, as if twigs were being snapped in the next room – as cigarettes are consumed. Do not watch this movie if you are trying to quit.
Why do these people smoke so much? Maybe because they’re creative. When you want to show someone as intelligent in the movies, you make them wear a pair of glasses. Cigarettes, similarly, are accessories that suggest creativity. Because, heaven forbid, you wouldn’t actually want to show the person creating something. Where’s the cool quotient in that? Kabir is a screenwriter (Roy is the protagonist of the movie he’s writing), and there are stray shots of him at his typewriter. Yes, I said typewriter. The manual kind, with a ribbon and everything. With this heavy-duty clacking and the cigarettes and the glasses of whiskey and the fedora, Kabir, I guess, is meant to be the Hemingwayesque type. The Old Man and the Ciggie. As a writer myself, I was very curious about the accoutrements on Kabir’s desk. The clock, I get. After all, deadlines are an undeniable fact of the writing life. But an hourglass as well? And a mirror on the facing wall? Perhaps this is the director Vikramjit Singh subtly alerting us to what lies ahead: those grains of sand are going to dribble out very, very slowly as Kabir/Roy embarks on a series of reflections.
I don’t keep track of less and more, right and wrong… We always want to lead other people’s lives… The noise of life is trapped in its silences… I am a tourist… The man who holds the gun, he’s the one people listen to… The questions are the same; it’s the answers that keep changing.
These musings unfold against the most scrupulous staging. The settings are lush, and even the mess is exceedingly pretty. There’s a scene that takes place inside a car as it begins to drizzle outside – it looks as if Jackson Pollock is at work on the windshield. Imagine an Architectural Digest spread that featured a Cambridge doctoral student whacking off with a copy of Camus in his hand – that’s Roy in a nutshell. The production designer’s brief must have been to bring to life the pages of an upmarket lifestyle magazine, except that what’s being sold aren’t perfumes and liquor but existentialism and male angst. Sometimes a female gets into the act. Jacqueline Frenandez – who plays Ayesha in the track with Kabir, and Tia in the one with Roy – asks: Are you who people say you are, or do you try to be the kind of person people assume you to be? Sometimes, a simple “hello” will suffice. Ayesha does yoga. Roy rides a bike. Tia feeds a horse. Kabir stares at the sea. Roy fires bullets into the ocean. Kabir says he’s going to miss Ayesha, and she replies that she always wanted to be a ballet dancer. Later, Kabir reveals that he always wanted to play the piano. I was reminded of the scene from Dev.D where Paro walks into Dev’s hotel room. He says that he wants to loves her. Main tumse pyar karna chahta hoon. She says she doesn’t get what ‘wanting to love’ someone means. Log pyar karte hain. Yeh karna chahna kya hota hai? But then, practical people don’t get romantics, especially brooding, solipsistic romantics. And for some reason, whether in literature or in the movies, these navel-gazers turn out to be babe-magnets. Devdas had Paro and Chandramukhi. Kabir, we learn, is something of a “ladies’ man” – he has had 21 breakups. A male fantasy? It may be no coincidence that none of these books or movies was written by a woman.
Every frame in Roy is freighted with so much significance that it’s a miracle the screen doesn’t sag to the floor. Kabir polishes the outside of a goldfish bowl, aka he’s knows what it’s like to be a celebrity. Or something. While Kabir suffers from a writing block, Roy is on a boat that’s going nowhere, aka they are both adrift. Or something. Kabir’s father gifts him an expensive watch and Kabir refuses it, aka he doesn’t really live by the clock. Or maybe he prefers the hourglass on his writing desk. Kabir mentions that he feels like he’s trapped in a room with no exits, aka finally someone had the decency to put into words what the audience has been experiencing all along. There’s no lightness, and we have to invent our own jokes periodically, like the fact that Ranbir Kapoor’s soporific presence is advertised in the opening credits as “a dynamic role.” I also had a quiet laugh about the name of Kabir’s film, Guns III. As if someone like him would consent to his work sounding like something dreamed up by a third-rate hack. Even if Kabir were to write a hack-like story with lots of guns, he’d title it That Feeling When A Bullet Expands Slowly In Your Brain. Or something.
The film didn’t have to be this way. It has a superb premise, about a creator and his mirror-image creation. It has some good actors – Anupam Kher as Kabir’s father, Shernaz Patel as Kabir’s assistant and mother-figure, Rajit Kapur as a detective. But the characters don’t connect with each other or with the audience. The director is just after mood and posturing, and he is great at manufacturing this – but he seems to want to be known as a philosopher rather than a good storyteller. It’s not wrong for a film to prefer the abstractness of ideas to the concreteness of events, but it is a problem when we’re not allowed to work out these ideas for ourselves, when they’re constantly being murmured into our ears. We’re used to our movies telling us what to feel. Roy tells us what to think. After a while it becomes unbearable.
Things go really downhill towards the end, with a desperate lunge at the shoelace-tying symmetry of a rom-com. And there’s a curious letter with Hindi sentences written out in English, which pretty much sums up the problem with these filmmakers. Figure out the language, the sensibility, of your audience – and then make your movie. In other words, Roy is what happens when an art-house English film masquerades as a mainstream Hindi movie.
- that scene from Dev.D = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.