Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, Pooja Bhatt, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Saranya Ponvannan
Director: R. Balki
A film that boasts of not only a special appearance by the Big B but also his debut as music composer is enticing enough, with R. Balki’s track record as a cliché-busting filmmaker only adding to the appeal of this thriller out in cinemas right now.
Danny (Salmaan), the reclusive florist proprietor of Danny’s Flowers in Mumbai, finds himself drawn out of his dreamy shell towards Nila (Dhanwanthary) when she displays some similar introvert traits. But the free bouquets of flowers symbolising a blossoming love story come to a crashing halt when Danny realises Nila is no different to other slaves to modern technology who frequent his store.
However, the couple soon discover another enduring bonding factor – a mutual love of good cinema. Film journalist Nila finds herself spellbound by Danny’s classic Indian film hero vibes, accidentally or not so accidentally recreating scenes from the works of her admired auteur Guru Dutt. Their love story, magically set against the lilting soundtrack of Dutt’s iconic creations, unfolds in a city in the grips of a serial killer targeting film critics to slice and dice them to death in the most gruesome ways imaginable.
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Arvind Mathur (Deol), as the officer in charge of the case, is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery spate of killings with the help of well-heeled criminal psychologist Zenobia Shroff (Bhatt). Soon, Nila is roped in as a stand-in critic to lure the serial killer out in the open. Will the crime-fighting trio succeed in cracking open the baffling case and lift the life-threatening siege on critics – forced to be chup (silent) about any extreme views on cinema releases?
This has to be R. Balki’s most fun foray as a filmmaker, the blood-curdling scenes of serial murders aside. The systematic and scripted undoing of cinema critics would have no doubt been an enjoyable ride for the filmmaker, whose own attempts at creating some out-of-the-box cinema such as ‘Cheeni Kum’ have been slashed and burnt at the altar of reviews.
As an ode to Guru Dutt, the filmmaker whose mould-breaking cinema was truly appreciated only posthumously, this is a very effective homage in cinematic style and musical flow. Despite the gory subject matter, the audience is transported into a parallel universe – much like Danny’s own alternate reality.
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Deol as the no-nonsense police officer is a good fit, mostly to reflect the opposing avatars of Bollywood itself – loud and cantankerous at times but mellow and heart-warming at others. Bhatt clearly relished her “expert criminal” role and Dhanwanthary makes a convincing Hindi film debut as an ambitious reporter. Saranya Ponvannan, as her blind and quick-witted mother, deserves a special mention. But ultimately it is Salmaan who yet again proves he can carry off any script thrown at him with panache. To say much more about his weighty performance would be to give away some of the mystery of this well-crafted script.
Overall, this film has to be one of those few Bollywood all-rounders as a critics’ and box-office favourite. In the words of the Big B, Indian cinema does need “fearless voices” and Balki most certainly falls in that category.