A cocky Hitchcock, a desi Brian da Palma without the steamy sex. Or is this the Londoners' version of Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna….Yup, this is a darkish devious stylish delicious thriller with balls….er, brawls.
The three main characters, married or involved with one another are at one another's neck, while poor Sonali Kulkarni (excellent in the one scene where she breaks down for her dead son) remains largely out of it. Sometimes it pays to not get involved. Jimmy Sheirgill (who for some unknown reason likes to flaunt his singing talent in this brawl-room dancing) is so much like Shah Rukh Khan's KANK you wonder if the character has modeled his life on the Khan. Except that Jimmy's impairment is more emotional than physical.
A work-less worthless writer (watch out for the still-lovely Kitu Gidwani as his supportive but disgruntled publisher) he lolls around on the sofa all day long taunting his wife about her sleeping habits. And we aren't even mentioning any snore points.
The quadrangle (with Kulkarni's minimal contribution) has interesting Hitcockian possibilities, only half-realized. The narration moves at a measured momentum. You feel the director is holding back the characters from a fuller emotional expression. Maybe they're shy. Maybe they just don't care.
Debutant director Aanand Rai has a game plan and a destination. But he's in no hurry to get there. The initial conversations between Sheirgill and Menon on the speeding train hold plenty of prattling promise. The exchanges, you soon realize aren't so much about the two men as about the wives in their lives.
This is where the situation gets tangled beyond the plot. Just why the two men would want their respective spouses bumped off never comes into the kingdom of the convincing. We are left looking at a world manoeuvred by the self-serving desires of four innately unhappy people in two marriages that aren't half as wretched as the ones Karan Johar designed in KANK.
The film's crux is a murder plan that never quite takes off. As layer after layer of deception is peeled off in steady motions of a narration that knows its boundaries and never dreams of crossing it, we're left looking at the characters as they are rather than the way they want us to see them.
The film is stylishly put together. Cinematographer Manoj Shaw captures the quartet of cut-up characters in a languorous sea of Londoners who don't seem to care enough to even stare. The incidental characters are as half-finished as the main protagonists, hovering between desire and fulfillment, never quite sure which way to go.
The performers attempt a casual look-ma-no-acting kind of candour which works when the dialogues support these irrelevantly unhappy people.
The sequence in the bar where Nandana Sen flirts cautiously with her soon-to-be extra-marital lover Kay Kay Menon (as clenched as ever) shows the directors command over the craft of infidelity. But somewhere down the line the betrayals of the plot far exceed the game of deception played by the characters.
The music score is uneven. And the club song with a pole dancer is laughably odds with the smoky sophistication that the presentations aim for. Somewhere in the second-half the Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar's voice pops up for a ballad. She belongs to a different world!
Strangers is a strangely stirring thriller with echoes from Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder and Johar's KANK setting off an uneasy chain of events that lead to a disastrous denouement.
One isn't sure if the director should share the blame for his characters’ messy emotional life.