Director: Atul Sabharwal
Actors: Arjun Kapoor, Sasheh Agha, Jackie Shroff, Rishi Kapoor, Tanvi Azmi, Deepti Naval
It is important to pay attention early on in Aurangzeb as it kicks off with Rishi Kapoor’s voiceover. He introduces his “business” as a top cop and the roll of characters that are to play a part in this complex, intelligent plot that holds the promise of a taut thriller about power and money.
At a thematic level, the writers have invested a lot in the screenplay. This is not merely a story of good vs evil for shades of grey overwhelm. There is a delicate web of characters, who are always expected to double cross and have their moments of epiphanies that bring about a 180-degree turn in their conduct. And they don’t disappoint. Every ancillary player has more to them than meets the eye.
The underworld is white-collared, sans sleaze and more corporate than even the corporates we’re used to in Bollywood. The authorities have extensive, even human, backgrounds that motivate their every move. They both lack conscience, and are willing to pay any price for their goals. They’re at loggerheads but it’s impossible to pick a side. You must instead back characters, who may or may not be redeemed. A film that makes you do this is a good film.
But at its heart, Aurangzeb is about family dominated by a parent-son theme. Blood and ambition, the film often reminds us, are the choices the characters of Aurangzeb have before them.
And while the movie succeeds at a thematic level, it falters with the details. Critical plot points are weakly executed. The crisis upfront that forces a Don-like potentially dangerous exchange of twins separated in their youth (I say these words without irony) is justified almost offhandedly – to restore a dead man’s honour. In the climax too, equations change faster than you can say “traitor” because a mobile phone voice message mistakenly records a critical exchange leading to murder. Feeble, for a story with such ambition.
Sabharwal is unable to maintain the authoritative control he has over the proceedings in the first quarter of Aurangzeb. He begins to idiot-proof the story and resorts to gimmicky drama as it begins to slip away from the viewer. As it is, the idea of lookalikes taking another, more powerful person’s place has always been purely a cinematic trick and one on shaky ground. Imagine for a moment you had a doppelganger and s/he was thrust all of a sudden amongst your closest people, in real life. Would they for a moment believe it was you? Very few films can pull such a thing off convincingly. And the one that come instantly to mind is The Talented Mr Ripley.
Arjun Kapoor though is earnest with his effort in this difficult double role. This is a performance more mature than what we saw of him in Ishaqzaade. He’s particularly good when unrestrained, and seems to relish playing the bad boy. A special mention for Jackie Shroff, who’s reinvented himself post his fine work in Aaranya Kaandam. There’s gravity in his voice. When he speaks, you listen.
While the ambition of Aurangzeb is to be lauded, there just isn’t enough steam to see it through till the end. And at well over two hours, that end seems very far off. Try it then, for its complexity and Kapoor and Shroff.