“Ittefaq”… So much flavour, that the (underwhelming) mystery is almost beside the point

Posted on November 4, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

When I heard that Yash Chopra’s Ittefaq was being remade, I wondered if they’d go after the only portion of the film that still stands — where the agitated man who’s invaded the house calms down, and begins to have a “relationship” with the lonely housewife. She pours them drinks. She makes their beds. She asks about his (now-dead) wife. She talks about her husband, who no longer has time for her. In the midst of the overheated thriller mechanics, the story pauses to comment on the institution of marriage, where one party could be holding the other hostage. At least, that’s a plausible reading, and I thought a filmmaker of today would find it interesting to go there, take the comment further with the relaxed social norms around us and our increased willingness to accept stars in shades of grey.

But this Ittefaq, directed by Abhay Chopra, is an entirely different animal. There are a few nods — the double murder, the attempt to use a flashlight to attract the attention of a security guard. But where the older film was mostly set inside a house, this version opens out the story — geographically (we keep moving between the house and prison) and temporally (flashbacks alternating with the present day).  The Rajesh Khanna character is no longer an escapee from an insane asylum. He’s a celebrated author named — wait for it! — Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra, looking, as always, like a suitable boy). I sat up, awaiting the scene where Vikram Sethi dispenses bons mots with his literary friends, Amitav Ghoshal and Arundhati Raichand. No such luck, alas!

The Nanda character is now Maya (Sonakshi Sinha). There’s broken glass on her living-room floor. Did she murder her husband (as Vikram implies)? Or, as Maya tells it, is Vikram the killer? The film, thus, balloons into a game of he-says-she-says. It’s up to inspector Dev (Akshaye Khanna) to decide who’s telling the truth — a tough job, given that he has just three days. As a tense thriller, Ittefaq is underwhelming — but I enjoyed watching Akshaye. He’s… intense. He has the air of someone who chews on his pen really hard while solving the crossword in the loo. He gets the best lines, and chews on them too, with relish. He also keeps chewing food. Eating is a running theme with Dev and his subordinates. It adds flavour, which is the best thing about this remake.

There’s a flavourful writerliness to the scenes surrounding the mystery, the scenes with the supporting characters. The episode with the dog named Toofan. The constable (named Tambe; in Bollywood, “Tambe” is possibly second only to “Subramaniam” in connoting where a character is from) who changes a flickering tube light. The other cop who likes his soaked almonds. The excitable middle-class housewife who loses all sense of propriety when she becomes the focus of an interrogation. Unlike the older Ittefaq, there are no stock characters. Everyone comes with shades, the sense of a life beyond the confines of the story. And the morality is refreshing. A woman is allowed to be bad… without being all bad. With its less-than-two-hour running time (no songs!), Ittefaq is certainly watchable — though the question whose answer I awaited had long since changed from “who’s the killer?” to “what will they snack on next?”

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi