Director: Abhay Chopra
Genre: Crime thriller
Rating: 2.5 stars
It is no coincidence that the remake of a suspense-filled thriller from nearly half a century ago falls back on significant plot tweaks - and a major climax-altering epilogue - to try and camouflage a familiar storyline. This Ittefaq goes a little beyond the ending of the original film to keep us guessing a little longer than audiences were in 1969, but like the Yash Chopra-directed cult classic, it eschews songs. Everything else in - and about - Abhay Chopra's reworking signals a break from the past.
Does the first-time director hit the right buttons in what is understandably one of the year's most anticipated Hindi films? Yes and no. On the face of it, Ittefaq is a slick, stylish whodunit that is cast more in the mould of a police procedural than a good old murder mystery.
Both the framing and lighting used by director of photography Michal Sebastian Luka lends the film tangible textures, with subtle differences in visualization setting apart the spaces in which the drama unfolds - from the well-appointed interiors of the heroine's apartment to the spare ambience of the dimly lit lock-up to the mundane exterior of the Colaba police station. The Mumbai rains play an important part in the narrative and the camera conveys, with striking technical finesse, the dampness of the environment.
The story of Ittefaq, as we well know, is about two killings most foul. In the new take, a twist in the tale delivers an intriguing perfect-murder scenario in which the lawman comes tantalizingly close to bringing a fugitive to book. As a film, Ittefaq is definitely more than half-decent. It is competently mounted, compact and visually classy. As a thriller, however, its twists and turns aren't exactly of the kind that would blow you away. Ittefaq falls a tad short of being a genuine humdinger. But, to be sure, it falls only a tad short.
It is a thriller that remains watchable without being a consistently pulsating, heart-pounding experience.
One of the reasons why Ittefaq does not deliver the anticipated knockout punch is that the two lead actors - Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha - are hard-pressed to convey the full dramatic implications of the urgency and distress of the troubled characters that they play. Both, as in the case of Rajesh Khanna's painter and Nanda's homemaker of the late 1960s, are trapped in tottering marriages. Both have a motive to rid themselves of their respective partners.
But, of course, everything isn't how it seems on the surface. The man would have the cops believe that his wife is a wonderful person and he owes everything to her. The woman insists that she loves her husband. The web of lies and betrayals turns more and more complicated as the investigation unfolds, but none of the principal players in this swirling pot seems to be unduly at her/his wit's end.
The male protagonist is a bestselling writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth). He has just landed in Mumbai with his publisher-wife Katherine (Kimberley Louise McBeath) for the launch of his third novel. It turns out to be an ill-fated night. The wife ends up dead in a pool of blood. The needle of suspicion points toward Vikram. He gives the cops the slip.
With the Mumbai police on his trail, he barges into the home of Maya Sinha (Sonakshi) and solicits help. But, in one of many coincidences that the film is littered with, this house, too, has a corpse - that of Maya's lawyer-husband Shekhar Sinha - tucked away in one of the rooms.
The dual, almost simultaneous spousal killings expectedly send the cops into a tizzy. The man who is called upon to get to the bottom of the truth is the Mumbai crime branch investigating officer Dev Verma (Akshaye Khanna). The police commissioner gives him three days to find the killer(s). With Akshaye getting into the swing of the role with effortless ease, it is the cop who has to do most of the heavy-lifting in this toxic, twisted tale of a duo dodging the law.
When Akshaye is on the screen, Ittefaq looks like a film with great potential. Every time the actor opens his mouth, or pauses mid-sentence to catch his thoughts, or merely throws a glance at the two accused during the interrogations, he fills the film with possibilities. If eventually a lot of the hope that he raises remains unfulfilled, it is purely because the additions made to the story and the surface gloss do not yield the expected results.
With the male protagonist being a writer looking for inspiration in real life, the screenplay brings in strand about a rape survivor (whose privacy is cynically compromised) and a livid wife (who begins to ask uncomfortable questions) in the form of a red herring. On the other hand, Maya is saddled with a workaholic husband whose absences make her vulnerable to intrusions into her life, both wanted and unwanted.
Ittefaq is riveting all right when Akshaye Khanna's laconic sleuth holds the cards, but the conflicting versions of the fateful night that Vikram and Maya weave run largely along predictable lines. As she is grilled seconds before the interval, we are allowed a glimpse of fingermarks around Maya's neck. But when we see her in the scenes that she and Vikram take turns to describe, she is in a slinky, lacy, short nightdress but her eyes are kohl-lined and her eyelashes neatly curled. Definitely not the look of a harried woman caught in a dangerous situation in the middle of the night.
Watch Ittefaq because the film reveals a great deal about how Bollywood filmmaking has changed over the past five decades. If that isn't a big enough draw, watch it for nonpareil Akshaye Khanna. He overshadows everyone - and everything - in Ittefaq.