Cast: Fardeen Khan, Manoj Bajpai, Irrfan Khan
Direction: Suparn Varma
Rating: * & 1/2
I didn’t even know there was a film called Unknown, from which the premise and pretty much this entire picture is lifted. That flick, I am told, part Usual Suspects (copied as Chocolate in Hindi), part Reservoir Dogs (made once as Kaante) was so unknown, it barely made it to DVDs in America.
If anything, this film says a lot about the advances made in the motion-picture plagiarism industry of Mumbai in the past few years. It’s no longer a case of innocent artistes with a lifetime of writers’ block, looking to pass off versions of Hollywood films as their own.
The researchers work much harder now, dig so much deeper for creative development: A Filipino suspense Cavite (Aamir), an Almodovar classic Live Flesh (Bas Ek Pal), a French comedy The Dinner Game (Bheja Fry), or from the same producer’s desk three years ago, a Korean crackpot actioner Oldboy (Zinda). I’m sure you will appreciate their efforts. A good bootlegger is never easy to find.
In this movie of course, we find ourselves surrounded by a few gentlemen, waking up in a warehouse, having lost their memory. They obviously don’t know who they are, let alone what brings them together. None of them carry wallets in their back-pockets, something that can reveal much about your identity in such moments.
A quick mental calculation reveals instead that two of the guys in this group are in fact the kidnapped, and the others, the abductors. One of them is also the police’s rat. The drama plays out no differently from a popular party-sport like Mafia, or the boardgame Cluedo: all variants of the old playing-card chestnut ‘Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi’.
Clearly the macho lot seems particularly feisty for a famished dozen in an acid factory, reeling under amnesia from gas leakage. There are sandwiches tucked away in the corner, clothes neatly starched, a Lara Croft to join them for company (Dia Mirza): not a bad place for a picnic, I suppose.
They have only first names, and queerly Quentin: Om, Max, Romeo, Sultan, JD… Over this party lords the omnipresence of one Kaizer, of Kaizer Soze from Usual Suspects again, the villain (Irrfan Khan, what a waste) with the key to the mystery.
As you’d reckon, cars chase helicopters chase bikes chase your senses. And the shindig, like most others, appears the result of a child-man’s unfulfilled fantasy of spouting brand-names of guns, cars, and beating humans to pulp.
Plagiarism turns directors into technicians. They don’t have a voice, merely hands and legs to execute scenes. Varma, to be fair, does a competent ad-filmmaker’s job.
As for the film itself, this is where Tarantino was a decade ago. Look where he’s now with Inglourious Basterds, finally sunk into a crackling part-historic plot. Look at the the genre he inspired in this country: screen with a green tinge; actors with a twang, “We have a situation here;” descriptions that read, “Somewhere in Cape Town”; Indians talking to the few white men in Hindi… Never mind that this should find itself licked up by the critic’s acid tongue. Very soon, I suspect, this would be stuff of national joke as well.