'Wazir' Review: Con Job

08/01/2016 10:31 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:43 PM IST
Vinod Chopra Films/YouTube

When a film ends with an ‘Original Story by’ slate rather than a directorial credit, it probably means that the makers are rather proud of the story they’re putting out. In the case of Wazir, a thriller directed by Bejoy Nambiar and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the latter proudly steps into the limelight as the true master of puppets here, hogging top-billed story and screenplay credits.

An ill-advised move, ultimately, given that Wazir is an insufferably dumb thriller with little-to-no emotional impact. It’s a terrible start to the movie year.

This time around, Nambiar isn’t the main culprit, although he does try his best. Known more for his adeptness at manipulating frame-rates in ‘stylish’ montages than for actually making good films, the director puts his stamp on the film right at the outset with a slow-motion song sequence and a gunfight sequence that bursts a fire hydrant so that he can use that clichéd overhead shot of water shooting straight up towards the camera. Bayhem for dummies, basically.

But these niggles aside, the direction, for better or for worse, is largely invisible. The problem with Wazir is that it’s a half-baked, supposedly cat-and-mouse thriller — only you can see every twist coming in from a mile away. And brickbats must therefore be directed towards its writers: Chopra and Abhijat Joshi (Lagey Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots, PK).

Its first cardinal sin is that it expects us to root for an insipid, humourless Delhi ATS police officer, Danish Ali (a robotic Farhan Akhtar), who is shockingly bad at his job. Seriously. The first time we see him he manages to get his daughter killed by terrorists in a gun battle in broad daylight. Soon after that, numbed by grief, he messes up a covert operation whose existence he was supposed to be unaware of; yet, somehow he shows up at the right place and takes down an entire sleeper cell almost single-handedly.

He is suspended from the police force as a result, but convenient happenstance leads him to the home of wheelchair-bound former grandmaster Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (a somewhat hammy Amitabh Bachchan, using outtakes from his performance in The Last Lear), who seems to run some sort of chess, theatre, and dance residency in his spacious home. Ali, whose wife Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari, in the most elaborate Biba ad of all time) rightly blames him for their daughter’s death and is now estranged from him, develops a bond over games of chess with Panditji, who has also lost his one and only daughter.

Wazir is a con job, endeavouring to show us layers that it chooses to do almost nothing with.

Enter political intrigue. A Kashmiri politician named Izaad (or was it Yazaad?) Qureshi (Manav Kaul, in standard creep mode), now India’s Welfare Minister, may be responsible for the 'accidental' death of Panditji’s daughter. In an act of unforgivable buffoonery, the film reveals to us Qureshi’s true motivations in the first half itself, ensuring that the rest of the film is as black and white as a chessboard, but never as chequered.

Wazir is a con job, endeavouring to show us layers that it chooses to do almost nothing with. With the Kashmir insugency as the story's backdrop and an intriguing face-off between two characters who happen to be a Muslim and a Pandit, all it’s satisfied with is being a standard-issue collection of set-pieces, held together by a flimsy, often-preposterous plot. Panditji and Danish’s friendship barely strikes a chord and one is often left wondering why and how Danish is going out of his way to help this older gentleman wage a battle against a Union Minister (for an off-duty cop, he sure manages to pull a lot of strings) on the back of "I knew he was guilty from the look in his eyes". The characters are cardboard cut-outs. The relationships are hollow. It’s been two days and I still don’t know how Panditji can afford to maintain his apartment and why he has copies of Asha Bhonsle’s ‘Aao Huzoor Tumko’ on both vinyl and tape (seriously, who does that?).

It takes a whole lot of foreshadowing, some obvious hints that Danish’s character seems to overlook, and cameos by John Abraham and Neil Nitin Mukesh (mercifully only on screen for perhaps three minutes) to get to the end of this hollow exercise. I guess this is what happens when you make films for distributors and not for audiences.

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