How do you review a bloody thriller about a brutal serial killer who hunts down film critics and slices them open for their written words?
A whole lot of trepidation and a smidgen of survivor’s guilt, I say.
But jokes aside, director R Balki’s atmospheric ‘why-dunnit’ transports you into a dreamy-yet-dreary world of a florist recluse Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) living in the metropolis if Mumbai with a gore-happy serial killer on the loose.
The rakish and reserved Danny, with his tousled hair and nervous energy, talks more to his carefully-tended flowers than his customers.
He’s socially awkward and tense, but his sombre existence blooms when a twentysomething entertainment journalist Nila Menon, played efficiently by Shreya Dhanwanthary, walks into his nursery/store.
Sparks fly instantly and they embark on this sweet and meditative adventure of discovering each other. Guru Dutt’s haunting melody from his critically-mutilated classic ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ lends incredible atmospherics to their monsoon rendezvous. The effective background score and the moody visuals work.
But their whimsical love story is playing out in a city that’s being terrorised by a serial killer who chooses his victims based on their film reviews and star ratings. ‘A critic’s critic’ is how the cop (Sunny Deol) describes the deviant mind. It’s a definite dampener, but these two young guns seem immune to it largely as they lean into each other.
After every kill, the violent murderer carves out a star rating on his prey’s forehead. The degree of violence and gore is directly proportional to the killer’s critiquing of their review. If it doesn’t pass muster, then your death shall be more grotesque and violent.
From very early on, we are given broad cues on who the killer is, but the focus is largely on what triggered those bloody and brazenly butchering episodes. The body count is mounting and the serial killer is getting emboldened with each target.
When it comes to setting a scene and building a tense tone of a film, nobody does it better than director R Balki. The cloudy skies and the murky weather is a fair match to the dark, disturbed, and warped mind at work. The build-up is real and raw.
But be warned, it’s a thriller that takes its own time to unravel and the violence on display is not for the faint hearted. The critics — mostly ageing rotund males — who are perhaps just doing their job shabbily, meet undignified ends. Their crime and punishment is unevenly balanced.
But it’s the assured acting by the lead pair — Salmaan and Dhanwanthary — that makes this dark thriller with a wicked sense of humour throb with life. Both are in impressive form and have an easy chemistry. Both exude an aching vulnerability and are an emotional minefield.
Barring cinephile and Guru Dutt groupie Dhanwanthary’s questionable poster choices that has ‘Woody Allen is Innocent’ emblazoned on it (for those in the dark, acclaimed filmmaker Woody Allen has been accused of sexually abusing his daughter, an allegation that he has consistently denied), she exhibits a good grip on her character. Her equation with her sassy specially-abled mother (Saranya Ponvannan) is wonderfully captured. While these actors seem to be marching to tunes of subtlety, a bit of star dust appeared in the form of Sunny Deol.
Deol as the cop facing the heat for the rise in crime under his watch exercises considerable restraint, but he lets loose towards the end and succumbs to overdramatic histrionics. Just when you think that the high-decibel stereotype around Deol had faded, he’s back in his screechy hyper-masculine role screeching ‘bastard’ and jumping off a building in rage after he’s outwitted by a criminal. All the good work that he did when it came to being sardonic was undone with that melodramatic screech.
Actress Pooja Bhatt on call as an expert on serial killers’ psychology does what’s on the tin, but her dialogues sometimes appear contrived. But she nailed the part where she questions the cop about manipulating an idealistic journalist to pose as a prey for the serial killer. The film is filled with some shining moments, but there are bits that appear laboured. The climax, that’s supposed to provide us with all the answers, is underwhelming and pedestrian.
Perhaps it’s the makers’s bid to humanise the serial killer that doesn’t land well.
His motives seem almost romantic, making you forget that here’s a desperate sick man who bludgeons someone to death because he’s narcissistic and is averse to criticism — constructive or otherwise. His back-story isn’t wholly convincing and the ease with which he carries out his murders makes it look borderline silly. But if you can silence those thoughts, then you might enjoy this thriller that’s adequately sly and sobering.
Director: R Balki
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Sunny Deol, Pooja Bhatt, and Saranya Ponvannan
Stars: 3 out of 5