By Paloma Ganguly, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Being Cyrus"; Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani, Simone Singh; Director: Homi Adajania; Rating: ***
Is it about existential angst? Is it about the Parsi community? Is it about old age? Dark and brooding images flee past...but there are no answers until it's suddenly time for two chilling murders.
And that is the biggest drawback of "Being Cyrus". In spite of a good plot, a great cast and captivating backdrops, it is the absence of a pulse-racing build-up that lets this thriller down.
Debutant Homi Adajania tries hard but fails where another Indian director, Nagesh Kukunoor, succeeded so skilfully in "Teen Deewarein" - the art of peeling away the layers.
The story begins with Cyrus (Saif Ali Khan), a youth with an unsettling past, walking into the dysfunctional home of the dope-smoking retired sculptor Dinshaw Sethna (Naseeruddin Shah) and his adulterous wife Katy (Dimple Kapadia) as an assistant.
We see Cyrus doing odd jobs around the house, playing along with Katy's advances and entering into philosophical discussions with Dinshaw in the family's old bungalow in the beautifully shot locales of Panchgani.
Slowly, Cyrus gets sucked into a plot hatched by Katy that takes him to a broken down building in Mumbai where lives the rest of the Sethna family - Dinshaw's aged father Fardoonji, younger brother Farokh and sister-in-law Tina.
There Cyrus witnesses old Fardoonji's pathetic life wherein he is not allowed to eat what he likes, spends his days in a cramped, stuffy room and is terrorised by the short-tempered Farokh, played by the inimitable Boman Irani.
So, does Cyrus befriend Fardoonji to help him or is he just doing as told by Katy? Neither, it turns out.
In fact, most of the first half goes into introducing the tragicomic characters and their daily routine in detail - and course Cyrus' interactions with them in a strangely detached manner. That is when you begin to wonder about the plot - is the story really about to go anywhere?
No doubt, an able cast is at work and stops the viewer from lapsing into inattention, especially Naseer. The scene where he cuts his foot trying to pluck some white flowers growing in a dried well is beautifully etched out, and the wispy look in eyes explains why he is called a master-actor.
Saif does a decent job. Not once does it seem as if this mainstream Bollywood star is uncomfortable playing the protagonist of an offbeat, English language film.
But perhaps his character should have been better defined. At times a drifter, at times full of empathy, at times hallucinating, Cyrus the confused, troubled young man doesn't leave a lasting impression in spite of Saif's efforts.
The meek Tina, played with understated finesse by Simone Singh, is a shorter but better fleshed out role. It is the eerie silence with which she bears Farokh's harassment that seems to convey there is more to the plot than meets the eye.
Then there is Boman Irani, playing the brash Farokh to the hilt, snorting, contorting his face comically or menacingly as the situation demands. How someone as obnoxious as Farokh could have managed to attract the sexy Katy is a mystery.
Dimple's Katy is a letdown. While she looks every bit the seductress, her dialogue delivery is often not clear, nor her exaggerated irritability convincing.
The scene-stealer, however, is Fardoonji with his trembling, senile elderly act. There is a frozen sadness about him that thaws out in masterly spurts now and then.
The film doesn't qualify as great cinema, but in Bollywood, where hackneyed storylines get churned out dime a dozen, "Being Cyrus" is certainly being different.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2.5