Directed by Tinu Suresh Desai, the courtroom drama Rustom is loosely based on the infamous Nanavati trial of 1959, wherein Naval Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati was tried for the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife's lover. The controversy surrounding this case led to the abolishment of jury trials in India. In the screenplay by Vipul K Rawal, Akshay Kumar plays Commander Rustom Pavri and Ileana D'Cruz essays the role of his wife Cynthia.
Rustom shows us how the media can influence public opinion and in turn affect the outcomes of judicial trails. In the movie, a Parsi publisher makes a fortune by making a hero out of a convict as his newspaper price soars from one quarter of a rupee to five rupees in a matter of a few months. The film also takes swipes at the country's bureaucratic setup which is the root cause of the all-pervasive corruption in India. The film attempts to portray administrative officers at the senior-most levels establish nexuses with powerful politicians as well as influential businessmen, and how difficult it is for honest individuals survive in such a corrupt system.
Akshay Kumar delivers one of the finest performances of his career... But he is let down by the lack of seriousness in the courtroom scenes.
Rustom proves to be an absorbing cinematic experience up until the interval but the tension slowly fizzles out during the second half. Now, one gets the impression that the film is aiming for a commercial hit (Akshay Kumar in the lead is one hint) rather than winning over critics, but the filmmakers have made the critical mistake of underestimating the audience's intelligence. After all, isn't this the same audience which made a no-nonsense movie like Airlift, also starring Akshay Kumar, a grand success at the box office earlier this year?
Rustom's second half is supposed to be a courtroom drama but it slowly takes the form of farce, making a mockery out of the judicial system in the process. The levity could have easily been done away with. Yes, the audience would have probably laughed less but it would have ensured that the movie didn't end up undermining the good work done in the first half.
Yet, despite its glaring flaws, Rustom is redeemed somewhat by top-notch editing, good period detail and stand-out acting. Akshay Kumar, in particular, delivers one of the finest performances of his career. Dressed in the white Navy uniform in the courtroom sequences, he looks almost transcendent, calm and composed. But he is let down by the lack of seriousness in the courtroom scenes. The result is a run of the mill offering despite showing great promise to begin with. You'll be entertained, yes, but don't let your expectations soar too high.
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.