By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "Chehra"; Starring Dino Morea, Bipasha Basu, Irrfan Khan, Preeti Jhangiani, Navnee Parihar, Govind Namdeo; Written and directed by Saurav Shukla
"If only life were a book, I could turn back the pages," says protagonist Megha's voice-over after she crashes to her death.
Alas, by then the plot too has gone her way - shattered into smithereens under the weight of its own improbabilities.
"Chehra" is an extremely ambitious film. Too ambitious for its own good. The gifted writer Saurav Shukla wants to make a film that thumbs its nose at box office conventions. His heroine is a pretty wacky (more pretty than wacky, one would think) student of psychiatry who smashes a taxi when its driver is rude to her.
Quite a smashing beginning. But if you expect a thriller like "Collateral" where the cabbie's tale begins with a similar attack on his vehicle, you are in for a shock. "Chehra" attacks us in ways that are not quite the creative wake up call that one would expect.
The twists and turns in Shukla's tormented tale of psychological warfare should've kept you glued to your seat. They do just the opposite. So action-laden and character-challenged is the narrative that you plead silently for some sign of quiet normality.
But no such luck. "Chehra" moves through a tangle of dark events that don't necessarily add up to a cohesive plot.
The film is strewn with abused and perverted characters. The sequences showing Megha's mother (Navnee Parihar) being thrashed by her husband are especially ugly. Much later we get a rather jolting action-replay of the same situation in Megha's marriage when her husband (Irrfan) abuses her, taunting her all the time about her mother's terrible destiny.
Just when you begin to wonder if Shukla is suggesting a karmic-cycle and a genealogical link behind wife battering, Bipasha suddenly changes from a grimace to a grin.
"Ha, fooled ya! I was only acting. Very good acting, no?" she interjects as Dino, playing the shrink with a shrunken self-worth, tries to look shocked and disillusioned.
More laudable for what it strives to achieve than what finally comes across, "Chehra" is one of those designer film-noire plots with aberrant characterisations cluttering the canvas without creating a believable or even engaging world.
This is perhaps the only thriller in recent times that doesn't seek inspiration from Hollywood. Originality unaccompanied by virtuosity is virtually futile.
This isn't the first time that Bipasha has played a psychologically traumatised character. She was pretty spooked out in Vikram Bhatt's "Raaz". More recently in new-director Tanvir Ahmed's "Madhoshi", she played a schizophrenic who 'sees' an imaginary lover.
Blessedly, there's nothing imaginary about Dino Morea. Playing her patient doctor, he hovers around anxiously trying to draw a coherent circle around the central love story. His efforts are largely deflected by the plot's unreasonable anxieties.
In trying to remain several steps ahead of viewers, "Chehra" falls flat on its face. There's too much action, not enough breathing space for reaction. In the absence of porous interludes, the narrative exudes a stifling and crowded aura, not conducive to involving the audience's attention the way a psychological thriller is meant to.
The song-breaks are the ultimate Waterloo. In one song Bipasha does a Barbie-doll-in-Britneyland act about how she wants to just chill.
Forgets the chills and thrills, "Chehra" isn't in the mood to provide any of those. What we get is a narrative that is self-consciously different. Saurav Shukla isn't afraid of going into dark areas. If only he could let us see some light at the end of the tunnel.