August 11 2016
Bollywood period film has nice touches and a passionate and unusual story to tell about India’s last ever trial with a jury…
SUBTLE it isn’t, but then no one goes to a big Bollywood blockbuster expecting to be touched but its finer observations on life.
And yet “Rustom” a period drama and starring megastar, Akshay Kumar in the lead part, undoubtedly has its moments.
Set largely (with a little bit of Britain) in 1959 Bombay (Mumbai) and with a healthy dose of cinema noir to its frame, it’s stretched like a patty to fill a foot-long sandwich.
And what of the filling?
Well, the main ingredient is meaty indeed (sorry veges, think of it as a veg patty), ‘Rustom Pavri’ is a decorated naval officer in the Indian Navy and discovers his wife has been playing footsie (well a little more, even though this is India and just before the 1960s sexual revolution) with a close male friend. He takes matters into his own hands, and the film unspools the motives, beyond the obvious.
Stationed in London, a time before we first encounter Rustom on a ship in the Indian Ocean, he meets his wife-to-be, Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz) there. It is a soppy romance as you would expect and nicely executed, if you get past the pure paneer.
There are hints that she is English and she is definitely Christian (but she wears saris, so she is ALL RIGHT…haha…) and this gets a mention only because the moral subtext of this film is really quite conservative (like 1950s India then or today still?). Rustom is a Parsi and you know what some say about mixed marriages…
Cynthia is shimmeringly beautiful and delicate, a gentle flower protected by Rustom’s macho, upright manners and ways. We are dealing here with an Indian Hero – the capitalisation is entirely deliberate.
Based very loosely on a real story (KM Nanavati), Rustom ends up shooting Vikram, a wealthy Sindhi industrialist who moves in the same circle of friends, and has had his way with Cynthia (while our Hero was away, protecting the nation). Different communities all have their own interests staked in the forthcoming trial – even the iconic and most famous Parsi of them all perhaps, JRD Tata appears in one scene.
Of course, it’s an open and shut case, when Inspector Vincent Lobo (Pawan Malhotra) turns up and Rustom turns himself over to the police before they even know about the crime.
From there we get a court case which almost feels like it is being conducted in real time and there is even a self-referential joke about the entertainment (or lack of it) along the way.
It’s fun, if you like Bollywood this way – there are a few gags, some nice clothes, principally, but not exclusively worn by Preeti (Esha Gupta) who plays Vikram’s sister and the vamp character with some relish and aplomb. Everything actually is a bit cartoonish and encourages the audiences to take sides and the more vocal yours is, the more entertaining it might all become.
At around two and half hours, it’s also a bit long and drawn out.
A tighter production with a less heavy handed music score at the front end and perhaps a greater focus on noir and not Bollywood, might have seen a stronger film.
But baby, this is the movies, and it’s showtime and if Bollywood is about anything, it’s about the totality of an experience.
It scores probably quite highly in that regard and it does have an interesting story (convoluted and predictable in its moral stance, though it is).
However, for the sophisticates – in cinematic terms only…haha 😉 – it’s a bit pat and too much within in a very traditional narrative that suggests folks with seemingly more western mores (code: look at their suits and skirts, at least worn as they are in India) are defintely not to be trusted…No?
ACV rating: ** ½ (out of five).