It’s a simple one-line plot. Man loves wife, wife has affair, man kills wife’s lover. However, this sequence of events created history in the Nanavati case in the late 1950s. A jealous husband shot his wife’s lover with three bullets to the chest and then surrendered himself to the police admitting his crime. After several earlier adaptations, director Tinu Suresh Desai, returns to this infamous murder again, only this time soaking it in syrupy patriotism and hard to digest explanations.
Cdr. Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) is married to the beautiful but otherwise dimensionless Cynthia (Ileana D Cruz) who looks pretty, simpers, sobs and switches to saris while seeking atonement in the second half. They have perhaps the most inadvisable friends. Preeti Makhija (Esha Gupta) and her trying-desperately-to-look-lecherous brother Vikram (Arjan Bajwa). Given his atrocious choice of clothes, and complete lack of subtlety or charm its shocking how Vikram is characterised as a casanova. Vikram and Cynthia have an affair, his sister plays accomplice looking more Moulin rouge than millionaire. Everything is going smoothly in badly colour-corrected Mumbai, till Rustom comes home a couple of days early and finds Cynthia and Vikram together. He supposedly loses his cool and ends up shooting Vikram thrice. Preeti reaches her brother’s scene of murder in coiffed hair, immaculate makeup and not a tear in sight. A mention must be made of her cigarrete holder which looks suspiciously like Glen Close’s prop in “101 Dalmatians”. From here the story could have been developed into a psychological thriller, where the accused and his wife manipulate the entire jury and walk away scot free, but alas. Since this is a Bollywood film, we cannot have a hero who displays weakness or is flawed in any manner.
The story quickly moves into the courtroom drama, where Rustom chooses to represent himself. The prosecution lawyer Mr Khangani (Sachin Khedekar in a role he will regret forever) is supposedly as crooked as a well-made jalebi. However, blinded by Rustom’s miraculously and consistently wrinkle-free, white uniform, he is left hamming and looking increasingly nervous about why he chose the film. I almost expected a packet of Tide to go flying across the scene in the middle of the prison but was sadly disappointed to see no detergent in film placements.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film is, that right from the first scene, the audience knows that Akshay Kumar is going to be acquitted. However instead of creating intrigue and building suspense with a well- rounded, complex character, we are left with a boring and insipid protagonist who looks like he should have been in a Barjatya film.
Akshay Kumar who displayed his acting chops in the very well made “Airlift” and “Baby”, is given a character that is a sadly diluted version of what a man in his position should have been. The only time he gets a chance to perform is when his wife comes to meet him in jail and he has a hard time not holding her. For the rest of the film, he goes through the motions playing yet another patriotic Indian caught in a seemingly impossible situation. Ilena D’Cruz looks pretty as she is supposed to, but her makeup often looks like she had an allergic reaction to something. Esha Gupta’s low cut dresses are supposed to reveal her cleavage and her villainous personality, since costume is characterisation in this film. Both the ladies have little significant to say or do apart from being sweet, repentant wife and vengeful, stereotypical vamp.
The supporting cast consisting of credible actors like Pavan Malhotra, Kumud Sharma, Kanwaljeet Singh and Sachin Khedekar try hard to cover up the missing links in their characterisation. It’s sad to see such immense talent struggling to stay afloat in the lumpy narrative.
While the script and dialogue is laughable for most part of the film, the film is let down in its technical department as well. The cinematography consists of glaring jumps from daylight to blood orange. Dutch angles are used without justification and there is an attempted crazy zoom shot on Sachin Khedekar, supposedly to heighten the impact of his attempted acting. The editing is sloppy and slows the film down considerably, while the background score consists of a song that attempts to make “Rustom” into an adjective.
It’s a real pity. The original Nanavati case had all the ingredients of a rollicking potboiler, or dark but humorous psychological thriller where the couple does a Francis and Claire Underwood act to get out of a crime.
There are so many unanswered questions and loose ends that are just left callously incomplete by the director. How does an honest naval officer have a Swiss bank account? When does he get time in between shooting a man and putting a magic spell on his uniform to open this account? How does he manage to carry around an envelope into prison with the account details? If he is such a flawless bore, why does he take five crores from the Navy and keep mum about the involvement of high ranking naval officers? Isn’t that an underhand move? Also how does the high ranking naval officer transfer such a huge sum of money and not demand an immediate handover of the document that they so desperately want? These are just some of the gaping potholes in the narrative that are passed off as acts of patriotic fervour.
The penultimate scene is the most inadvertently hilarious part of the film. Out of nowhere, Rustom decides to explain the entire story to the police officer in charge of the case. Perhaps, because in spite of being the investigating officer, he is absent for most of the trial. I am sure the page was titled, “Let’s just get it over with”. Well that’s the audience sentiment for the entire film. “Rustom”, is rather Rus-tame and unless you have a fetish for well-ironed uniforms, it’s best avoided this weekend.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the author.