Gaslight review: Sara Ali Khan, Vikrant Massey are wasted on a dumb whodunnit
Gaslight movie review: Sara Ali Khan and Vikrant Massey's talents are wasted on this murder mystery that refuses to rise above the cliches.
I really don't get the point why most suspense thrillers take form of whodunnits, and are then laced with elements of horror. Even the horror is limited to jump-scares, dark lighting, shadowy entities, a lantern lying on the ground and pianos playing on their own. I mean actual horror films Veerana (1988) and Band Darwaza (1990) did a better job at these back then. Gaslight offers nothing new. If anything, it bores you, and makes you smirk at places where you feel the attempt was to scare you. The overall premise of the film isn't that bad but the execution and the predictable first 15 minutes itself ruin the whole experience. (Also read: Gaslight Twitter review: Sara Ali Khan called 'irritating', film termed 'boring and slow, not engaging at all')
I, personally, enjoy whodunnits and murder mysteries, but they need to be intelligently written and cleverly shot. You can't expect audiences to sit around for nearly two hours and serve such a mediocre film. Gaslight amused me further because director Pavan Kriplani had earlier given us a brilliant thriller like Phobia starring Radhika Apte, and Ragini MMS. I agree that level would be difficult to match, but with Gaslight, it's rather underestimating the audience's intelligence, expecting them to solve this mystery where there's actually none. Okay, yes, the last 20 minutes and the climax kind of redeems the film, but it's too little too late. And not to forget, you have to sit through 1.5 hours to actually reach that one high.
The film begins with a wheelchair-bound Meesha (Sara Ali Khan) returning to her royal haveli, after over a decade to meet her father His Majesty Ratan (Shataf Ahmed Figar). All this while, she hasn't seen her father or even heard his voice. She is welcomed home by her sultry stepmom Rukmani (Chitrangda Singh) and a bunch of servants at the estate, who appear as and when they are needed to take the story forward. There's estate manager Kapil (Vikrant Massey), a top cop Ashok (Rahul Dev), family doctor Shekhawat (Shishir Sharma), Meesha's rich cousin Rana Jai Singh (Akshay Oberoi) and a dog named Commander. At some point, everyone is on the radar and is suspected to have kill Ratan, but I guessed it much early on. I am sure most of you will, too. While Rukmani insists that Ratan is out on a business trip, Meesha senses there's something fishy and either her father is missing or dead. She, with the help of Kapil, tries to unearth the truth and reach the bottom of it.
All this could have been done and shown really smartly, but unfortunately, Kriplani doesn't even attempt, it seems, to engage us much. Gaslight uses done-to-death tropes to scare you or create a mystery around a murder, but nothing could hold you together. Rahul Dharuman's cinematography is off-putting at places where he makes things look darker than they already are.
The story co-written by Kriplani and Neha Veena Sharma had so much potential but I never saw a point where it was tapped to create some really gripping moments. The twists come and go without much of a buzz. Needless blood and gore in a couple of scenes don't make an impact either. Meesha is said to have lost her mother to suicide and later she meets with an accident - beyond this everything else is left to be assumed. Rukmani's presence in the family, reasons for Meesha's hatred towards her father, how everything fell apart - it's all told through a wafer-thin back story, which barely sounds convincing.
Thankfully, or may be not, there aren't any subplots, so the story remains focused on one thing - finding what happened to Ratan. In between, there's an exchange of heated words between Rana and Rukmani, and you expect something more it, but that fades out without much detail. In-between, there's a blind woman dressed in black attire looking funny as hell rather than spooky, trying to tell Meesha that her father is dead and that he would contact her at midnight. This whole sequence had me in splits. This is 2023 and to serve such scenes in the names of horror of a rather poor and sad joke.
In terms of performance, Sara Ali Khan has a lot of potential to act, but she needs better and more substantial parts written for her. Gaslight gives her scope to perform but not beyond having almost the same expression throughout the film. She tries too hard to make an impact, but after a while, you start to feel bad for her. Vikrant Massey, known for his acting chops, also falls prey to the execution. It seems he has a lot to carry on his shoulders in the film, but he doesn't get too many chances. Chitrangda Singh sets out to be one of the best written characters in the beginning, but the way her track takes a backseat in the second half is so disappointing. From being a strong and confident woman, she is reduced to being so vulnerable that the switch looks so unreal. Other characters including Oberoi, Sharma and Dev could have more fleshed-out parts to play, but they're used as mere props.
If you want to spend two hours of your day solving a murder mystery and take a pat on your back for getting it right in the first go, try watching Gaslight. If you like Sara and Vikrant as actors, you might end up feeling bad for them because this definitely isn't one of their best performances or at least the narrative doesn't let them shine. Gaslight is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.