Bejoy Nambiar likes slo-mo songs. His most sensational use of the technique came in the Khoya khoya chand sequence in Shaitaan. Guns were blazing. People were fleeing. The sequence had all the makings of a white-knuckle thriller, but the slo-mo made it something else. The most important aspect of a chase, time, was slowed down and, suddenly, there was a new element in the mix: mood. Instead of worrying about who will live, who will die, we were now being asked to savour the stretch, marvel at how something so horrible could also be so beautiful. Nambiar’s new film, Wazir, opens with a slo-mo song. It opens with mood. The frames are snapshots from the life of a couple – Anti-Terrorist Squad officer Danish (Farhan Akhtar) and Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari). As is inevitable in a film that clocks in at a mere 100-something minutes, many years of togetherness are compressed into this song – their wedding, the birth of their daughter – but the slo-mo makes us savour this togetherness, which is emphasised by the lyrics. Tere bin… marna nahin… jeena nahin tere bin. You may have heard a Foreigner song along the same lines: I don’t want to live without you.
The sequence is filled with the usual happy-family images – making silly faces for the camera, for instance – but also some unusual ones. I liked the touch that Ruhana is a dancer, and that she continues being a dancer after becoming a mother. (In other words, she isn’t reduced to knotting Danish’s tie as he leaves for work and asking her daughter to hurry up for school.) The usual happy-family image we get in these situations is that of the parents watching the child in a school play, but here, Danish and his daughter watch Ruhana on stage. The touch transforms Ruhana from “wife” and “mother” back to “woman” – at some level, she’s still the person for whom Danish began to memorize poetry, everything from Ghalib to Shakespeare. But after all this sunshine, there’s bound to be a tempest – it’s a big one. The child is killed. Danish blames himself. Ruhana blames him too. The lyrics of the song take on a new meaning. Earlier, it was about them. Now, it’s about their daughter. They don’t want to live without her.
At heart, Wazir is a domestic drama – there’s even some couples therapy. It’s also a sort of Badlapur where the father is afflicted with PTSD after the death of a child and looks for ways to heal. After Ruhana moves out, Danish finds a friend in Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan), another father with a tragic past. With Panditji too, we get flashes of togetherness – he speaks lovingly of his wife, of the song she loved, Aao huzoor tumko sitaaron mein le chaloon. He’d accept this invitation and join her in the heavens, but he’s still got something to do. Like Danish, he wants revenge. His target is a politician named Izaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul), in whose eyes he sensed guilt. It’s clearly not evidence that will hold up in court, but when Danish goes to interrogate Qureshi, he senses something is wrong. The man, in a former life, was supposedly a pashmina craftsman – you’d think he’d have delicate hands, but his handshake is like that of a mildly mad Bruce Banner. Maybe there’s a villain hulking underneath? At least, this is how Danish buys into Panditji’s plans. Or maybe, like the Varun Dhawan character in Badlapur, he just needs an outlet for all his rage. He feels a kinship with this fellow-sufferer: Yeh ladaai aapki thi. Ab hamaari hai.
Slowly, we slip into a different zone, and a sillier movie. Panditji is a chess player and the game is all over the place – in Panditji’s garden (a big ornamental chess piece), in Panditji’s shot glasses (which have miniature chess pieces inside them), and especially in Panditji’s lines (“Shatranj hota to haathi ghode daudte, kutte nahin!”). I half-expected a scene in which Panditji, while flipping channels, stumbles into Tabu singing Rook rook rook. Now, the game makes sense in a film like Sleuth, where two men are constantly trying to out-manoeuvre each other, but here, they’re both on the same side. This certainly does not warrant the wall-to-wall chess imagery. It’s a metaphor for something – only, no one seems to know what. (Maybe someone’s addicted to pawn?) And this weighs down the thriller portions, which seem half-hearted, something to get done with so that we get back to Danish and Ruhana. (After all, the film ends with a shot of them.)
Wazir is co-written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who, as he did in Mission: Kashmir, paints a Kashmiri backdrop. Panditji is one of many who fled the valley, and Qureshi belongs to the People’s Party of Kashmir. (The film gets some unexpected topicality with the recent demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.) But the emotional beats were stronger in Mission: Kashmir, as the whole film dealt with the effects of war on an individual. Here, it’s just flavouring – Dal Lake Tadka. The leads almost make us buy it all. Farhan Akhtar plays a more sombre variation of the guy-next-door-if-you-forget-he’s-from-a-film-family character he’s made his own, except that he may want to work on his drunken scenes – you almost hear the hic! As for Bachchan, he keeps mixing it up – one part gruff-hamminess (you feel, between chess games, he’s still teaching a visually impaired Rani Mukerji) and one part restraint (watch him gaze at nothing in particular and shed a tear for the past). These two could probably make you watch a movie in which they did nothing but… play chess.
- Shaitaan = see here
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