Not since the Ramsay Brothers' spate of low-budget horror porn has anyone in Bollywood combined sex and suspense with success. Then the Bhatt family got into the act, with higher budgets, more exotic locales, better-looking actors, and more skin show. In Murder 3, the "official" remake of the Colombian film La Cara Oculta (The Hidden Face), the scion of the family proves that the Bhatt penchant for sleaze and sentiment can ruin even a tight thriller.
The film is an almost scene-by-scene copy of the original. However, the hero of the film isn't a violinist here – he's a wildlife and fashion photographer. Yes, wildlife and fashion. Only the Bhatts could marry those two. So, Vikram (Randeep Hooda) lives in South Africa, where ostriches, zebras, cheetahs and all manner of animals obligingly gather together and tamely pose for his camera. Despite all that, and his claims of being a brilliant photographer, he's always broke. Challo Mumbai, where he shoots white-skinned women climbing all over each other. Suddenly, he can afford a creepy house in the middle of a forest.
The rest of the film follows the Bhatt house rules. There's a grand misunderstanding, a practical joke goes wrong, and then things get scary. Throw in the revenge of several lovers scorned, and the protectiveness of a jilted lover who can't let go, and you're left with the ashes of a potentially engaging thriller.
Perhaps in an attempt to shed their sleaze tag, the Bhatts have cut down on the erotica here. Sadly for the viewers, the heaving and panting is replaced by weeping and wailing. The dialogue is as asinine as usual, but now, there are random avowals of love and impromptu lovers' fights and the obligatory makeup sex. Sara Loren, playing a masochistic waitress, has no qualms with taking off her clothes, and this allows the filmmakers to put in several bathtub and shower scenes.
One feels sorry for Aditi Rao Hydari, who puts more effort into her acting than this film deserves, and ends up hamming her way through her role. Randeep Hooda does what he always does in the Bhatt films – he plays Vikram with a stoic face, exercising much restraint with his histrionic skills and none with his amorous.
There are pluses in this film – for one, there's no Emraan Hashmi. For another, the storyline is stronger than usual, supplied as it is by another film.
The Verdict: We've seen worse from the Bhatts, but that isn't saying much, is it?
Niggling (Non?) Fiction
Zero Dark Thirty
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, and others
Maybe a story that everyone knows, and remembers, doesn't make for a very good thriller. Maybe a spy film that isn't thriller material needs to spend more time on actual intelligence-gathering methods than gruesome torture. Maybe it veers too often between documentary and drama. Or, maybe we've seen too many films that elevate people to heroes simply for doing their jobs. Of course, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is a shoo-in for the Oscars, as most painstakingly shot movies based on real events, and starring a woman, are. But it niggles throughout.
There are times when chunks of this film, which claims to be based on first-person accounts, are lost in jargon. At other times, the script troubles us by squeezing the grey areas out into black and white. I felt this most strongly when a detainee who's been subjected to waterboarding, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, and confinement in a tiny box chats away about the Al Qaeda's operatives over a hot meal.
Aside from moral objections – and there are many of those – there are several grouses a South Asian could nurse against the film. For the large part, it gets the ethnicities of its cast wrong, expecting us to believe an Algerian can pass for a Baluchi, or a Lebanese for a Pakistani. Second, except for the dialogue in Urdu, it gives them all a generic, thick, Middle-Eastern English accent.
The film doesn't stand scrutiny in its telling – there's little plot, and no characterisation. The camera often lingers on CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain), leaving her expressions to convey her hard-headedness, loneliness, relief, disgust, and pain. While Chastain does deliver, she's limited by the weakness of the structure. Several good actors, among them Jason Clarke, who plays an interrogation expert, are wasted in a film that doesn't make time for them. On the other hand, it makes a big deal of showing us Maya lifting the veil of her burkha to sip juice, munch fries, and rest her canvas shoes on the table. Okay, she's an American in Pakistan, we get that. She hasn't gone native but uses the conventions cleverly, we get that too.
There are glimpses of Bigelow's filmmaking skill – one of my favourite scenes is that of operative Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) waiting eagerly for her big catch, an Al Qaeda doctor who's willing to be America's mole. The evolution of the relationship between the two women, of competitiveness leading to camaraderie, is traced expertly. But on the whole, empathy with the film eludes.
The Verdict: If you followed the news in the days after May 1, 2011, this film may not sustain your interest.