Cast: Jacqueline Fernandez, Manoj Bajpayee, Mohit Raina, Zayn Marie Khan, Darshan Jariwala
Director: Shirish Kunder
Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
About halfway way into Mrs Serial Killer, written and directed by Shirish Kunder, the alarm bells begin to ring. Is Manoj Bajpayee, the sole reason for watching this Netflix thriller, going to be no more than a glorified extra in this insipid thriller? And then a bit of a crackle and a twist. The actor explodes. He is granted a little over 30 minutes to put on a full-on performance. He goes all out! The final moments of Mrs Serial Killer are therefore far more watchable than its first hour and a bit. But Bajpayee's brilliance is hardly enough to paper over the inanities that are passed off as generic sleights as the film lurches to its climax.
Bajpayee plays a hotshot gynaecological surgeon, Mrityunjoy Mukherjee, who is suspected of being a serial killer and taken into police custody. The dismembered bodies of six missing girls are found in the doctor's half-built farmhouse. No lawyer is willing to represent him. When he is escorted into a courtroom, a belligerent crowd shouts, "Hang the killer!" And when he is led out after the judge rejects his bail plea, he is assaulted by an angry mob. Even in prison, fellow inmates pounce upon him and leave him with grievous injuries.
Mrityunjoy's distraught wife Sona (Jacqueline Fernandez) seeks the help of criminal lawyer Brij Rastogi (Darshan Jariwala), an old pal of the doctor, to prove the innocence of the accused. The lady is ushered into the advocate's garish bedchamber where he is recuperating after a cardiac arrest. The camera (the film has two DoPs, Ravi K. Chandran and Kiran Deohans), places the actors at the bottom of the frame as they begin talking. With their conversation turning conspiratorial, we are given close-up views of the two. The focus shifts from the overstuffed, baroque backdrop.
Production designer Shashank Tere is also given a great deal of scope to create the spaces in which the action takes place, which includes an evocatively lit deserted hill town market where the heroine is chased by a girl in the middle of the night before the two women have a go at each other. All the work that is done to enhance the quality of the compositions, the lighting and the ambience is in the end wasted on a film that has very little to offer by way of mystery and tension.
To return to the story, or whatever there is of it, all the evidence that is presented in the courtroom by the investigating officer, Imran Shahid (Mohit Raina), points to Mrityunjoy's involvement in the gruesome killings, but the cunning advocate convinces the pregnant Sona to take the law into her hands to prove that the serial killer is still on the prowl and that her husband is a victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Unfortunately, no matter what the not so amazing Mrs Mukherjee tries, including ensnaring an unmarried girl, Anushka Tiwari (debutante Zayn Marie Khan), a college student and Taekwondo black belt who is pregnant too, a lack of original ideas stalks Mrs Serial Killer until the aforementioned point of the film where Bajpayee makes a stirring return and turns the tables on everybody.
Lurking behind the scenes is a motherless man who was probably also molested as a child by an adoptive father. Also thrown into this naive, slapdash mix is a jilted lover who has reason to try and get even with the woman he loved and lost. The woman in question is willing, on her part, to do anything it takes to get her man out of the slammer.
It is revealed early enough that the police inspector was Sona's boyfriend for years but was beaten to the altar by somebody else. He has landed up, with not-so-clear intentions, in the hill town where Sona has relocated with her hubby and is now preparing to welcome an addition to the family.
In the film's opening scene, which is actually borrowed from a juncture in the tale much further down the line, we see the heroine muttering to herself in a frenzied state: "This story is about to end. Though not the way we imagined it. But we've got to do what we've got to do!" Might have been a great idea had the story actually ended there, but then we would have missed out on all the drama that Bajpayee unleashes in the last quarter of the film. When the actor surveys the scene in the course of this purple patch, it is easy to understand why he exclaims: "What a mess!"
Mrs Serial Killer is a hopelessly botched operation. It needed a scalpel far sharper than the one that is at the disposal of the writer-director whose brainchild this supposedly suspenseful crime drama is. The red herrings that the film throws our way do not serve any real purpose and the needle of suspicion is pointed so glaringly in one direction that what Mrs Serial Killer comes up with in the end is not even much a guessing game.
Jacqueline Fernandez, whose last film was the disastrous Drive, continues to hit a wall. She is moved by neither frenzy nor the fear of the inevitable to begin to see need to express the character's emotions. Is that the brief the director gave her? If yes, she does a great job of thwarting the audience's attempts to grasp what is going on in her mind. Mohit Raina, best known as television's Lord Shiva, walks through his role as if in a divine trance. For newcomer Zain Marie Khan who, barring a couple of action sequences that she is in, is only required to lie prostrate on a stretcher, this film is a vehicle without wheels.
A great actor in a film that is as gratingly dull as this one has to try harder than usual to dispel the feeling that he is in the wrong place. Bajpayee does his best to straighten the 'mess'. But what can he do when Mrs Serial Killer is hell bent on annihilating itself?