The first film of 2016: Wazir review

Bejoy Nambiar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar, Aditi Rao Hydari, Manav Kaul

If first impressions are the lasting impressions, then Bejoy Nambiar’s Wazir gets it right from the outset.

There are many good things about ‘Wazir’. First off, this is a film that’s backed by writing. Look, look, a plot. Hallelujah. Such a relief after so many plotless wonders masquerading as movies. Next, it brings back the actor in Amitabh Bachchan. And third, it respects our time, keeping things ticking at just over a neat 1.5 hours.

‘Wazir’ is about the coming together of two wounded men, very different in age and temperament, for a mutual purpose. Danish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) is recovering, with excruciating slowness, from a deeply personal tragedy; his wife Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) is suffering too, in her own solitary corner. He meets up with the wheelchair-bound Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan), and gets sucked into the latter’s world, which is full of light and darkness, the contradictions arising from a painful past loss, and a present trying to come to terms with it. Also read: Five reasons why Wazir can be worth watching.

But within moments of the slow song, a well-written script ensures you are on the edge of your seats. From a well shot and perfectly edited shoot-out to the build up to an innocent friendship, the director keeps us on the tenterhooks as the story unfolds.

Not that there aren’t roadblocks choking the journey Wazir wants to take you on.

Danish, the protagonist, is not your regular Bollywood hero. He is a police officer who you’d want to slap for his stupidity: The moment he turns his car around for the first chase of the movie, his naiveté is annoying and predictably dangerous.

Also, a brilliant actor like Manav Kaul is disappointingly underused. Kaul plays a conniving politician but there is little meat in his character to showcase his acting prowess.

And, the worst of it all comes at the end, in the dumbing down of all the scheming and devious plans, once the story is hurtling towards the end. Revealing the twists is great for the audience but why do most Hindi thrillers end up with one character telling the audience, “You know what? You saw A but it was actually B.” A smartly-edited rush of what actually happened behind the suspense should be convincing enough; there is no need for a character saying it all in as many words.

The spot of sunshine in the otherwise dark and mood-drenched Wazir is Aditi Rao Hydari, who glows on the screen every time she appears. But this is not her film. The narrative remains fiercely focused and fastened on the Bachchan-Akhtar equation creating through their characters a cruel game to death that destiny plays on the most undeserving.

Mr Bachchan’s grieving character humours himself to stay alive. He is Anand, from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film, 40 years too late. Farhan Akhtar gives his most emotionally nourished performance to date. While inBhaag Milkha Bhaag the performance depended on the actor’s physical preparation here Farhan relies completely on his internal world to make his character’s anguish a palpable entity.

Two other characters stand out. Manav Kaul’s performance as the Kashmiri politician with skeletons in his cupboard is sinister and ominous. Watch closely how he reacts to Farhan’s questioning in their first sequence together. These are brilliant actors at work.

This story so well told that you wish it had lasted a little longer so we could get to know the characters a little better. John Abraham shows up in an impressive key cameo bringing to his role of an intelligence officer the urgency that he had brought to Shoojit Sircar’s D Day.

If the second half had been as taut, the film would have been riveting. But Bejoy Nambiar’s familiar penchant for manufacturing atmosphere comes in the way. The insistence on grand backdrops, impressive as they are, causes sporadic dips in pace, giving us time to see the punches being telegraphed. But while that’s going on, Manav Kaul’s power-hungry politician keeps us watching: he plays someone he is not with pleasing economy. And Neil Nitin Mukesh makes a comeback, even if sketchy and a trifle contrived.

There’s enough to watch in ‘Wazir’ despite its flaws. It reaffirms something we’ve always known: that there’s nothing to beat a plot-driven film (co-written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi). That the supreme importance in a thriller is to keep it going. And that strong performances are the pivot of any film: watching Akhtar and Bachchan joust and manoeuver around each other is this film’s high point.

Satisfactory start to the year.

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