Aurangzeb : Movie Review

4 & 1/2 stars out of 5 (Outstanding)

Director : Atul Sabharwal

Hindi (English subtitles available), 2013

It is not only appearance, but also music, that can be deceptive. Far too many Indian cinematic thrillers make a big show of sturm und drang in the trailers and this is often prognostic of the eventual disappointment. The current product’s teasers were similarly amped up and resultantly I felt that this "Aurangzeb" would flatter to deceive. It might have in other hands, but under the pen and baton of Atul Sabharwal, it brought me to a point where I was silently gunning for this film to ascend to the highest echelons.

I’ll say now what I’ve felt since a number of years - the majority of Indian film critics can’t seem to escape from their pygmy mindsets - they are over-critical and lack vision.There are exceptions of course, but market-driven mantras and  mediocrity asphyxiates them just as it does the majority of our movies. I was surprised by how many reviewers failed to see the merit in this film, just as they have erred in many other cases. It was thanks to a tip-off from Suparna Sharma in Deccan Chronicle (paradoxically, a reviewer I rarely rely on), that I decided to see this film.

The city of Gurgaon is top-lined in this pic like never before - not in the delineation of its details but in heralding its rising status. There is a superb wide-screen shot of the city’s rising concrete hulks, a metropolis under construction, and to the right of the screen a man stands - district police commisioner Ravikant (Rishi Kapoor) calmly stating that he has understood this town’s soul since decades, and that he now plans to commandeer and vitiate it. He is the patriarch of a family of corrupted policemen who liberally participate in the collection system (bribe-taking). It is a family of multiple characters that I will not go into the full details of, except to state that only one male member of it is innocent of this immorality,and that the true leanings of another (Prithviraj Sukumaran) are difficult to discern from his steely countenance.

 Ravikant targets a very powerful gangster -Yashwardhan (played by Jackie Shroff) - the latter maintains an apparently clean facade of a big businessman. Yashwardhan has twin sons - neither son knows this at the beginning of the story, as one child lives with his mother after being separated from Yashwardhan in early childhood, while the other son remains with the father. Ravikant’s plan to is get in touch with gentle virtuous Vishal (Mama’s boy) and make him take the place of Ajay (Dad’s wicked out-of-control son). Ajay will be abducted and imprisoned so that Vishal can impersonate him, infiltrate this mafia family and spill all the secrets.

The concept of brothers separated at birth has been milked by the Hindi film industry in bygone decades but what Sabharwal does here is to take this duo-model, dust it off, pare down the melodrama, amp up the intensity, upgrade the intelligence and wow the audience.

The plot thickens magnificently . None of the players will admit defeat easily, and everybody has a mind of their own. The process of Vishal infiltrating the Yashwardhan household, his initial faltering steps, behavious vis-a-vis his "regular" mistress, and the complicated consequences of it all, are portayed with fertile imagination. Tact and sensitivity are not sacrificed either. Checking Writer-Director Atul Sabharwal’s CV, I was pleasantly suprised to see that he is the writer of the top-notch under-recognized thriller "My Wife’s Murder". Eight years later, he gets to direct as well, and crafts a rare example of a first-class Hindi thriller. Each advancement of the plot is a well-thought chess move, all the way through to a satisfying ending. Not since Apaharan and Sarkar Part II have I been this impressed by the script’s steady upkeep of political machinations.

Ajay-Vishal are essayed by young Arjun Kapoor - the enormous-BMI to handsome-hunk journeyman and "Ishaqzaade" debutante who jumps one level higher here. He conclusively shows that he is ready to take on the Khans, Devgans, Kumars & Hrithiks. As Vishal he is restrained and sensitive, but as Ajay he explodes with unpredictable intensity, leering snarling and tongue-lashing whoever comes his way. Other spoilt brats might fire guns to vent their spleen, but this bloke does the damage with his wanton sprays of venomous dialogue and crazed body-language. Witness his live-wire act in a scene with he flays a cop and his own mother with scorching contempt.

In Aurangzeb, he does not have the sparkling company of Parineeta Chopra as he did in 'Ishaqzaade", but the supporting actresses here do not disappoint. Sasha Agha impresses with confident seductiveness and nubile appeal seguing into vulnerability. Swara Bhaskar with brief screen-time, displays poignant emotion conveyed amidst smiles.

The director’s audacity needs to be commended for directly targetting the Gurgaon police. This real-life comparison is impossible to ignore and members of this force will be under greater scrutiny (wikipedia citation : by whom?!) after Aurangzeb’s release. The cash bandied about in the story is gargantuan - Rs.30,000 crore ($4.5 billion) is cited as the figure for a highway construction, one per cent of which will be siphoned off by a criminal syndicate that plans to pave the way by taking care of obstructing villagers.

Among senior artistes, Rishi Kapoor is given a well-developed character arc, and yes, he returns a competent performance, but I was expecting more from this admired veteran - a multi-layered richness or depth of emotion which is sadly absent. His act is one step better than his villainous turn in Agneepath, but of all his performances, none match the impact of the frantic fibrillating husband he embodied in "Khoj" . Jackie Shroff, as the Mafia boss, seems to have the stuffing knocked out of him right from the start ; even in charged scenes he is a bit too mellow for his own good or evil.

Karthik Ganesh’s lens maintains a high standard with its clear, considered frames. Amartya Rahut’s background music deserves special mention for its power and refinement . Using cellos, guitar and percussion he amplifies and underlines the hard-hitting drama, and only falters when the titular "Aurangazeb" is sung or rather shouted with artless melodrama in the finale when a character falls into his wife’s arms.That blunder is akin to chopping off one’s arms after building one’s body all along. The songs, few and far in between, are forgettable.

Atul Sabharwal, with his double-triumph of writing and directing, has shown that he is now eligible to launch on to the big leagues. Industry watchers would no doubt have noted this. The question is whether the Indian film audience has the sense or taste or both, to further reward this film with box office collections.




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