Movie: Aiyaary
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Sidharth Malhotra, Kumud Mishra, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Time: 2 hour 40 minutes
Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Director Neeraj Pandey’s latest thriller, Aiyaary, set against the backdrop of the Indian armed forces, is about a young officer who goes rogue after stumbling upon the Indian military’s murky goings-on.

But you get the distinct impression that it’s the director who’s scared of going rogue and demonising the establishment or the men in uniform.

He seems to hold back in Aiyaary, a sacrilege because he’s one of the few directors who can spin taut, non-conformist films.

Simply put, director Pandey knows a thing or two about sticking it to the authorities in the most dignified, non-didactic fashion as evident in his earlier works such as A Wednesday! and the riveting cop-robber thriller Special Chabbis. But, half an hour into Aiyaary and you wonder where did the spunky Pandey we know disappear?

Precious minutes are lost in explaining character quirks, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of a clutch of military officers and a couple of well-dressed arms dealers. The dialogues between the idealistic and the corrupt are painfully stilted.

When it came to performances, it was seasoned actor Manoj Bajpayee who was in total command.

He plays the senior military officer Col. Abhay Singh and is a joy to watch as he sinks his teeth into the role of a staunchly scrupulous army officer. He has got the mannerisms and the body language of a disciplined soul figured out to the last letter. He’s the devilish head of a covert cell that thwarts baddies in his distinct cavalier style.

Representing the millennials is his dishy protege, Jai Bakshi, played by Sidharth Malhotra. But his character isn’t as fleshed out and what you get is an unconvincing army deserter. His reasoning for going berserk and outing his own mates lacks teeth. The climax, which explains his source of disillusionment, is hastily wrapped up. Till then, the over-stretched thriller is intent on over-explaining but the portions that needed that kind of adoration and attention were hurriedly done. The climax felt forced; it lets the whole film down. The portions where Bakshi romances the young woman Rakul Preet Singh, a nifty hacker, is unconvincing and lame. Singh looks fetching, but doesn’t win us over as a sly hacker.

Aiyaary also boasts some of the finest talents in Hindi cinema right now. There’s Kumud Mishra, Adil Hussain, Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher in this ensemble espionage drama, but they are grossly under-utilised.

Hussain and Mishra, as the cold and soulless businessmen who are out to get the rogue spy, aren’t as sharp as their suits. Their seedy style of conducting business felt forced and unnatural.

Shah, who plays the token common man in Pandey’s socially-conscious Aiyaary, suffers from a serious A Wednesday! hangover. When he utters the veiled threat — ‘don’t ever provoke a common man’ to highlight his have and have-nots divide during the climax — the regurgitated sentiments from A Wednesday! come screeching back.

But your misgivings erode when you watch Bajpayee in action. His wry humour at world problems, delivered in his nonplussed manner, are comic gold.

Aiyaary is a toothless thriller about a clutch of morally-complex, dapper men-in-uniform who turn against each other, but the reasons for doing so doesn’t get enough play. Watch this at your own risk.