January 8 2016
First Bollywood blockbuster of 2016 is different but whether it blows you away or not is debateable…
HOW DEEPLY you like “Wazir” or care for it comes down to your view on Bollywood as a genre in itself to be appraised on its own terms.
If you’re tolerant or rather fond of Bollywood’s usual plays: sentimentality, melodrama, and star shows, this movie is a whole lot of fun and will have you gripped and all wrapped and ready to babble to your friends about it.
The more critical among you might find it entertaining enough, but unbelievable at the edges and probably a wasted opportunity in some senses.
Firstly, and let’s say this up front – Amitabh Bachchan – as Pandit Omkar Nath Dhar in this – just gets better and better with age.
He plays a man confined to a wheelchair and who is a chess grandmaster and now tutor. He inhabits the character with all his customary charm and good grace and it is put to good effect by director Bejoy Nambiar.
Farhan Akhtar, as Daanish Ali, is also very engaging as something of a renegade anti-terror cop whose encounter with a mysterious terrorist (Neil Nitin Mukesh) from Pakistan leads him to the chessmaster Bachchan.
It starts with a mass shooting and a very tragic death – the cop’s little girl.
His estrangement from his wife, played by Aditi Rao Hydari, is focused on his recklessness and his commitment to the job rather than the care of his daughter.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s (it’s a production from the famed team that brought you ‘PK’) story and screenplay rather let him off the hook on this – his wife is right: who in their right mind would chase down terrorists with their daughter in the back seat of the family car?
Chopra and Nambiar get past that easily enough and the two men, Akhtar and Bachchan joust for supremacy and the title of who is more wronged.
For Nath too is also nursing a tragedy connected to his daughter. She has fallen down some stairs and died…mmm.
She does so in the house of a prominent politician whose background is somewhat murky and troubling – though Chopra doesn’t let you dwell on it, even though it is really quite interesting.
His backstory is that he emerged from the Valley of Kashmir, the lone survivor of terrifying terrorist onslaught on a village. He and his daughter are the only survivors. He becomes an emblem of peace and his stock grows as he is feted for his bravery and his message of peace.
The politician, when we met him in the film, is now home minister and is surrounded by rather unsavoury looking bodyguards (a giveaway but this is Bollywood) and subtlety is like some unfortunate disease there.
It transpires that Bachchan’s daughter tumbled on the stairs at the politician’s home and that no questions were asked – she simply fell, hit her head and conked it. This probably isn’t that far from what can happen in India. It’s not just dodgy stairs. If you are a politician or rich, few people will ever dare to point a finger, or ask awkward questions.
So both men have a common point of tragedy – their daughters have been taken from them.
As you might imagine, this all leads to Kashmir and Ali on an unauthorised mission to track down the real ‘Wazir’. In Kashmir and helping him on the sly is a former colleague SP (John Abraham in a cameo role).
There’s a twist and it’s neither brilliant, nor terrible – really like this whole film.
The music is okay and in a couple of places it really helps, but mostly it is too soft and soppy, especially at the beginning.
This is not an action movie or a thriller in the conventional sense. Its real pluses are Bachchan, Akhtar who remains easy on the eye for the ladies in the house, and a relatively slick follow through – it doesn’t drag but at just over an hour and a half, that’s not surprising.
So, if you want something that’s not a Bollywood tamasha action wise, this is probably good enough and different enough.
There’s a beautiful scene towards the end of the movie with dancers and performers on a large chessboard – it is a play written by Nath’s daughter and in it is Ruhana (Hydari). More of that and less of the obvious would have made for a better film experience (for this critic) but then it probably wouldn’t be Bollywood and a chunk of the audience would be bored and contemplate leaving.
If you want something a little more incisive with a more believable story line, this isn’t it; but it won’t also have you rushing to a bucket or stuck to your seat without a care in the world, it’s all a bit inbetween and is saved by the actors and their characters.
ACV star rating: ** ½ (out of five)
‘Wazir‘ is out worldwide today (January 8)