Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Emraan Hashmi, Annu Kapoor, Krystle D'Souza, Rhea Chakraborty, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Raghubir Yadav, Siddhanth Kapoor
Director: Rumy Jafry
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)
Four superannuated court officials - the men congregate in an ex- judge's sprawling bungalow in a remote, sparsely populated hill station some 300 kilometers from Delhi - arrogate to themselves the authority to play games with the law and an unsuspecting guest. The result is a whiny, preachy film that begins to feel like a terrible trudge even before it has run one-fourth of its course.
On a day of relentless snowfall, when visibility is very low and the road is slippery, an ad agency head walks into a trap laid by the wizened quartet. The stranded wayfarer drops his car keys as he strides towards the house that stands in splendid isolation on an elevated perch. You instantly know the guy is walking into big trouble. Thus begins Chehre, as outlandish a chamber drama as any you will ever see.
Helmed by Rumy Jafry and written by the director in collaboration with Ranjit Kapoor, Chehre is a verbose and vacuous film trapped in a hokey construct designed to trot out ho-hum notions about crime and culpability. A cast of seasoned actors is reduced to hamming their way through an enervating drama that is all vainglorious bluster.
The law in our country, says erstwhile public prosecutor Lateef Zaidi (Amitabh Bachchan), does not deliver justice, it only delivers verdicts. In the company of retired Justice Jagdeep Acharya (Dhritiman Chatterjee) and former defense counsel Paramjeet Singh Bhullar (Annu Kapoor), his pals for decades, he takes upon himself the task of setting things right and proceeds to make mincemeat of logic.
The trio has a flute-playing Hariya Jatav (Raghubir Yadav) for company. The unassuming man not only completes the fearsome foursome, he also stands by grinning and grimacing by turns, suggesting in the bargain that there is much more to him than he is willing to let on.
The young man who is caught in the muddle is Sameer Mehra (Emraan Hashmi), who, after he has downed a peg of rum and a glass of sangria, is led to believe that he is in a harmless fireside game. The encounter takes an ominous turn as an incident from his past is dug up and made an integral part of the battle of wits that Zaidi and his canny cohorts have devised for the guest who knows not what he has let himself into.
There are two other characters in the house - a mysterious housekeeper (Rhea Chakraborty) and a mute factotum (Siddhant Kapoor). Both have backstories but neither of them has any chance of evolving into characters of substance. That is not what they are here to do. They are mere appendages. The girl cackles like a hen when she receives a surprise gift from the guest. The guy glowers threateningly at the man in the dock when the occasion demands.
A large chunk of Chehre, supposedly set in the hills of north India, has been filmed in Poland. The mansion in which the action - or, to be precise, the lack thereof - takes place is cavernous enough to conceal many secrets. It is littered with telltale signs to suggest that Sameer Mehra isn't the first man that the four have toyed with, nor will he be the last.
The snowfall, believe it or not, is accompanied by thunder and lightning. The strange weather conditions create the atmospherics for all the noise made as Sameer struggles in the faux courtroom to defend himself against the barrage of accusations hurled at him. As he sinks into the quagmire, he isn't alone. He takes the film along with him, aided by the non-stop prattle of the self-appointed judicial pontiff hell-bent on proving his point.
Perhaps aware that it has got ahead of itself by a fair distance with its mock trial, the film looks for tenuous links with real-life incidents - a gangrape, acid attacks, terrorism, a surgical strike (yes, that too, just in case you miss the connection between the rule of law and patriotic fervour) - to establish why Lateef Zaidi is so hell-bent on taking the game to its 'illogical' conclusion. This gives Bachchan the actor a pretext to launch into a long diatribe that only serves to drag the film further down into the dumps.
Not only does Chehre have no face-saving moments, it peddles tendentious, untenable ideas about how the law should be interpreted and applied. The film advocates vigilantism and thinks nothing of the centrality of due process in judicial proceedings. A key character in the film indulges in acts that violate the privacy of an individual. He thinks he has the inalienable right to do so.
Just as cavalier and insensitive is the manner in which Chehre treats the pair of women for whom it finds grudging space. In the universe that the film creates, a woman is either a hapless victim or a scheming vixen. There is nothing between the two ends - or beyond. One of the women (Krystle D'Souza), the unhappy wife of a wealthy entrepreneur (Samir Soni), sneaks into the film via flashbacks. The other is, of course, the housemaid who is at the beck and call of the judge. She performs her chores like a wound-up automaton.
"It is certain ... that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have," James Baldwin had written. In the case of the four old men of Chehre, arrogance and self-righteousness are added to ignorance and power. The pulpy potion that the deadly combination yields is sought to be projected as an ideal that we must all strive for.
Seriously, one must worry when, given the intolerance and infringement of individual rights that seem to be the norm today, filmmakers think it is perfectly fine to propagate the use of extra-legal means to solve the vexed problems of a complex society.
Amitabh Bachchan is in a 'friendly appearance' that hogs most of the footage, at times to the detriment of what is left of the film once it comes unstuck. Emraan Hashmi deserves much more than Chehre has the capacity for. Despite the half-baked character he is saddled with, Hashmi provides flashes of what he is capable of, although all of it is for a lost cause.
Among the rest of the actors, Raghubir Yadav, who bides his time on the sidelines for an occasional look-in, makes every glance and every line count. The character he fleshes is the most vivid of the lot. The film fails to recognize that.
At one point, the character played by Hashmi yells: "Main thak gaya hoon aur pakk gaya hoon (I am tired and bored)." His protestation comes late in the game. We begin to feel exactly the way that he does far earlier in this half-baked charade that makes a mockery of the law - and moviemaking.