Saturday, September 29, 2007
Johnny Gaddaar: quick notes
Okay, to the film now (after the previous post about Sriram Raghavan). Can’t put a structured review here, because I’m doing one for Tehelka and that will only be published next week, but here are some notes.
- I thought it was a solid, very gripping film that, despite Raghavan’s wide range of influences, managed to avoid being “inspired” (in the euphemistic sense that that word is normally used for Hindi movies). It’s notable that the one time he did lift something directly, he not only acknowledged his source movie (the early Amitabh Bachchan curio Parwana) but let a scene from that source movie play for a while, to demonstrate the exact nature of the inspiration.
- There’s been speculation that Johnny Gaddaar is a whodunit – an “identify the mole” story a la Sanjay Gupta’s Kaante. It’s no such thing. We know who the “gaddaar” is right from the beginning (the Neil Mukesh character, Vikram). The suspense here is of the Hitchcockian variety – deeper, more satisfying than can be provided by a simple twist or revelation at the end. The tension comes from our knowing things that the characters onscreen don’t know, and from watching how this plays out: the cat-and-mouse games, the second-guessing, the chance encounters and tiny pangs of conscience that briefly (but crucially) lead to missteps.
- I liked the urgency Raghavan brought to scenes that are often treated as stock footage in heist/caper movies: like the one where the Zakir Husain character is tearing a flat upside down to find stolen money – his grunts of frustration (complemented by a sigh of triumph at the end), the palpable desperation of his movements, the way he knocks on the walls to check for hollow spaces or takes a bean-bag apart, spraying bits of Styrofoam all over the apartment.
- Also, Raghavan uses some inventive techniques to bridge unrelated scenes. For instance, there’s a scene where one of the conmen, Prakash (Vinay Pathak), is trying to convince his wife to sell her beauty parlour so he can help finance a “get rich quick” con-job. Parwana is playing on the TV screen at the time and Prakash makes an observation about how gawky the young Amitabh looked, but then pointedly adds – for his wife’s benefit – that the guy at least grabbed the opportunity he had to make it big. We then cut to Vikram watching a later scene in the same film and being inspired by it in a very different way.
- Among the performances, Vinay Pathak and Zakir Husain come off best. Dharmendra looks weary (as he has done in many of his recent films) but has his moments – I giggled when he growled the line “Go get a drink, you’ll be alright” in the middle of a very stressful scene. Impressive debut for Neil Mukesh, though time will tell whether he can sustain the promise in different types of roles. He’s perfectly cast here. I think I remember Raghavan saying in an interview that Vikram is meant to be similar to Patricia Highsmith’s amoral Tom Ripley. Though the characters in Johnny Gaddaar aren’t fleshed out enough to justify such comparisons, Neil Mukesh combines steely-eyed determination with confused vulnerability in a way that’s reminiscent of some of the actors (Alain Delon in particular) who have played Ripley onscreen. He’s sympathetic despite his misdemeanors and you genuinely want him to get away with most of what he does. (There’s even a car-dumping shot that briefly recalls the “root for the murderer” swamp scene in Psycho.) Besides, he’s a Grade-A hunk, as my slavering wife observed at least 12 times during the screening.
- Unfortunately, unless some serious word-of-mouth happens, this film could vanish in two or three weeks (the hall we saw it in – a first-day show, Friday evening – was barely 20 per cent full). Pity if that happened.