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Greed goes before the fall

Bollywood rarely succeeds with screen adaptations of plays. Even rarer is the genre of chamber-drama-as-thriller. The film version of Maharathi, a Gujarati play led by Paresh Rawal that's been staged since the late 1980s, is that exceptional effort which succeeds brilliantly on both counts.

movie reviews Updated: Aug 20, 2010 23:33 IST

Maharathi
Moser Baer, Rs 149
Rating: ****

Bollywood rarely succeeds with screen adaptations of plays. Even rarer is the genre of chamber-drama-as-thriller. The film version of Maharathi, a Gujarati play led by Paresh Rawal that's been staged since the late 1980s, is that exceptional effort which succeeds brilliantly on both counts.

The plot twists around six characters – producer Jai Singh Adenwala, star-maker of a bygone era; small-time crook Subhash Sharma, who happens to save Jai Singh's life; Jai Singh's young wife Mallika; his selfish advocate A.D. Merchant; part-time house-sitter Swati; and assistant police commissioner Gokhale.

To spite his gold-digging wife ‘Malli', Jai Singh commits suicide in front of her and his newfound ally Subhash. Just before shooting himself — with a cinematic turn mirroring the last shot in Hitchcock's Notorious — Jai Singh lays down the condition that his insured sum of Rs 24 crore will come through only if the death can proved as a murder. Then avarice takes over.

Naseeruddin Shah's drunken Jai Singh, Rawal's scheming Subhash and Boman Irani's impatient Merchant come alive through pitch-perfect performances. Uttam Gada's script, strung as taut as a well-tuned drum, strikes up the right dhan-ta-naan noises at the right moments. Doses of everyday humour are also well-timed. Only, with their slightly theatrical performances, Neha Dhupiya as Mallika, Tara Sharma as Swati and Om Puri as ACP Gokhale stand out like black suits in a pyjama party.