Mayank Shekhar's review: Not a Love Story
By Hindustan Times
Direction: Ram Gopal Varma
Actors: Mahie Gill, Deepak Dobriyal
Moving images can cause a genuine migraine to some. At least the ones in this film could. Swinging at the speed of light, the camera here slips between the legs, under the skirt, is obsessed with the female knee, it licks the derriere, is stuck to the face, then planted under the breasts, over the fan, under the building…. Your head spins. Literally.
There are A-grade movies (mostly determined by popularity of filmstars in them, and therefore their budgets). There are B-grade movies (adorably low on tension, high on tackiness). Over the past few years, Varma's movies have largely fallen into neither: Raktacharitra 1, 2, Darling, Contract, Aag, Agyaat, Phoonk 1, 2…. They've deserved a category entirely of their own (V-grade? Maybe!).
This is still the first film from the director, since Sarkar Raj (2008), which comes with a script. Or at least an appealing story line. The shaking camera's also placed right at the heart of India's pop-culture capital: a quasi-independent republic called Andheri.
A young girl moves into suburban Mumbai from Chandigarh (I know, it's ‘Chandy', as North Indians with sweet penchant for shortened names call it). Her new home, where she wants to make it big in films, is of course the proverbial city of dreams. Too soon, she figures, like millions of others, her chosen city probably resides in people's dreams alone. It's a nightmare in real life.
Her apartment block, perennially under construction, like the rest of Mumbai, is pretty much an over-priced dump. It's hard enough to break into Bollywood. Random filmmakers make lame passes at her ("Before making a movie, it's important for a director to get into a 'comfort zone' with his actors." Huh, right!).
It's been three months. Her impatient boyfriend, back in Punjab, meanwhile, appears more frustrated than her: he's intensely, single-mindedly devoted to this girl. His passion — that over-rated virtue — should serve as legit warning for the immature young. She finally lands a movie role. The boyfriend lands up in Mumbai, at her door. He finds the object of his obsession, in her apartment, with a surprise guest, early in the morning: a stark-naked man, who incidentally also landed her that film role.
Most in urban India would roughly know the rest of this story. Not just because of the characters involved. But for what happens next. The boyfriend first kills that man in the apartment; then hacks his body into pieces, to dump and burn 'em off. The film rightly covers this gory crime (of supposed passion) with considerable restraint (no Korean corniness here).
The episode is obviously based on the sensational Neeraj Grover murder case (2008). Its profile had been raised in the English press, largely for two reasons, none of which have much to do with a dead-body in a plastic bag (There was another such body found in a neighbourhood called Titwala — nope, not making this up! — the morning before this film's release. The story didn't excite any Mumbai paper the next day).
Here's the deal. The middle-class woman (Mahie Gill as Anusha, for Maria Susairaj), an alleged accomplice in the murder case's a starlet; the deceased, a production executive. Inner workings of few professions generate as much public curiosity as entertainment, police and politics do. Follow the media. It's a fair barometer. Then, the boyfriend (Deepak Dobriyal as Robin, for Emile Jerome) and his girl were alleged to have had sex after the said crime, in the same flat, while the dead-body lay rotting in a room. This is morbid, macabre stuff.
Varma does well to pick a fine subject. He does manage to hold your attention. Self-referential Rangeela (as in his own 1995 blockbuster, and its title track) forms the backdrop for the starlet's story. Two versions of AR Rahman's track plays out on the screen. The girl's cellphone wakes up every few minutes to the Rangeela ring-tone. The setting is yet more or less wasted, realistically shot, relatively unexplored. Murder takes place in the first half itself. Filmmakers seem confused over how to take things forward then. The awkwardness shows.
The movie could've been a striking ‘police procedural' (perhaps on the lines of Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday). In published extracts from India's top tabloid editor Meenal Baghel's forthcoming book on the Neeraj Grover case (Death In Mumbai), the writer recounts the unusual calm with which both Maria and Emile had publicly carried on with their lives after Neeraj's murder. These, being normal ‘people like us', not dreaded criminals otherwise.
A perceptive, mild-mannered cop breaks Maria down eventually. Zakir Hussain plays that smart chief inspector. Those few minutes with this character remains the best part of this film. This is before two lovers get suddenly dragged to law court. Parents of the deceased stand around like irrelevant side-notes. Plain gibberish is offered for the story's epilogue. And yeah. Rangeela ring-tone buzzes again. Low angle lunacy takes over. Look: Camera's now attached to a moving car's wheels….
We delve deeper into neither the young dream-chasers of a scary celeb industry nor chilling procedurals of an infamous police case, let alone the juicy tabloid drama that followed it. The narrative is predictably linear. Tsk. Waste. I'd rather read Baghel's book.