Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Ittefaq (2017) - Movie Review

The plot: A book publisher (Kimberly Louisa McBeath) and a lawyer (Samir Sharma) have turned up dead and the only two witnesses to the crimes are also the prime suspects: Author Vikram (Sidharth Malhotra) and homemaker Maya (Sonakshi Sinha). As officer Dev (Akshaye Khanna) interviews them both, and hears two different versions of the facts from each of them, he struggles to piece together what actually happened that night. However, as the investigation carries on, it seems that the 'truth' of the matter is going to be even tougher to discern than first thought.

This is going to be a weird cast rundown. Not only do I have to go over how the actors are as their own characters, the plot also requires them to perform as other people’s versions of those same characters. It’s rare that simply talking about the acting has me nearing dangerously close to spoiler territory, but let’s see how this goes. Malhotra does really well at both the ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent’ depictions of his character, and his more quiet moments in a jail cell are very moving in how he plays them. Sinha likewise is good as both interpretations, and her chemistry with Malhotra both ways is quite good. Khanna as the detective trying to tie the two suspects together does surprisingly well, considering he’s playing bad cop without any real good cop in sight, and his scenes with the suspects stay suspenseful regardless of who is more suspected at any given time in the plot.

Pavail Gulati in a later role does end up throwing the plot off in some rather unfortunate ways, but that’s more a fault of the writing than his performance; man does very well with the material. Mandira Bedi as Dev’s wife makes for some of the film’s warmer moments, Kimberly Louisa McBeath as Vikram’s wife is a good third-party example of how the film plays with different perceptions of the characters, and Sharma as Shekhar… honestly, he comes out the weakest in terms of how his performance changes with the plot. Namely, because it really doesn’t and he feels out of place next to characters who keep shifting under the weight of the plot.

With the rather limited experience I have with Indian cinema, I don’t feel right making any real all-encompassing statements concerning cultural style. However, from what I have seen for myself, I can easily point common traits between them. Well, I might need to reconsider that because this film went for a change-up I doubt any Westerner would have expected: It’s not a musical. No show-stopping song numbers, no elaborate dance sequences, not even a song on the soundtrack with vocals; this is the most ‘conventional’ looking and sounding film I’ve covered from this region. And honestly, even with my liking for the unconventional musical, I like this approach.

The lack of intentional distraction from the plot through song means that the film’s pacing is a lot smoother, as well as a lot shorter at 100 minutes with change, and the lack of musical numbers means that there aren’t as many tonal imbalances to affect the plot’s drama. Given we’re dealing with a crime thriller, and one I checked out earlier this year still had musical numbers in it (and often alarming numbers at that, like the rapist antagonist singing about love in a nightclub), this was a good move.
However, note that I said that there “aren’t as many” tonal imbalances; they’re still here, just in a different form. Here, it manifests through the police officers that aren’t Dev, who vary in bumbling shenanigans like making tea at a crime scene or literally sleeping on the job. It’s real Keystone Cops material, and considering how those actions play into the main mystery and the general tone of suspicion, it’s distracting in a way that could have led to more effective ideas but ultimately doesn’t. They’re here to make us laugh, not exactly the most important component of this kind of story.

This is a murder mystery done in the classic “He said, she said, they said, it said” style and even considering this is a twice-connected remake, director Abhay Chopra and company do a very good job with it. The acting combined with Michal Luka’s flowing camera work and Tanishk Bagchi’s focused compositions maintain the film’s grim and distrustful tone all the way through, and the individual pieces of the main mystery fall into place quite nicely. It relies a lot on plot twists, but the setup for said twists are the kind that are obvious in hindsight but without it feeling like they were pulled from nowhere. The added touch of putting the police force in charge of the investigation into question as well widens the film’s possible outcomes, which along with the different perspectives in the narrative keeps things interesting and just shy of clear so that the anticipation concerning who is telling the truth stays consistent.

Well, mostly consistent, and this is where the bumbling cops start to chip into the film’s real worth. At times, because of when the two sides (murder mystery and comedy) intersect, it can be unclear about how much the film is taking seriously about itself. When your story is dealing with matters like murder, abusive relationships and possibly even police brutality, irreverence isn’t exactly the best way to convey such things. Especially when the film clearly wants the audience to take it seriously, and when it sticks to its real tone, doing so is quite easy. The thrills connected to Vikram and Maya’s versions of what happened, whether they’re telling the truth or lying or protecting themselves or protecting others or any combination of the four, are very palpable… which makes the unwanted interruptions that much more annoying.

All in all, it’s a really good thriller held back by a few minor niggles concerning tone; for a non-musical Bollywood production, this is a bit disconcerting. The acting is solid all round, even with the annoying comic relief policemen, the focus on intent means that this is a lean and mean thrilling machine that feels like it warrants all the intrigue it gets from the audience, and the story itself may feel familiar by this point but still feels like all the pieces fit together properly, even the ones that are fabricated. It ticks a lot of boxes for a good viewing experience, but I can’t lie: Tambe soured it a bit for me. Not enough not to recommend it though; it’s worth checking out.

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