If first impressions are the lasting impressions, then Bejoy Nambiar’s Wazir gets it right from the outset.
Every major character has a fabulously inviting introduction, one that makes us in the audience want to know more about them, as the tightly-wound script progresses in hurling but balanced tones. Who are these interesting people? Why, in the film’s heart-stopping preamble, does Danish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) do what he does? His action (can’t reveal what it is) triggers off a chain of events that can only be described as providential.
Farhan’s Danish is an intriguing bundle of contradictions: nervous yet valorous, rebellious yet defeated by a tragedy that defines his life for the entire film. It’s what Varun Dhawan went though in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur but only far more devastating in its ramifications.
Even as we try to understand the workings of Danish’s mind, the script is always ahead of us and also introduces us to the spirited paraplegic Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan). From his first moment on screen, he takes possession of his character as only he can. We first see him surrounded with intelligent little children who he teaches how to play chess.
The game of shatranj (chess) is used to shut away the ranj (grief). A lot of the dialogues on life’s vagaries expectantly use chess metaphors. But dialogue writer Abhijeet Deshpande never goes over the chess board. The grief stricken characters speak as though life has taught them to be wiser than they would sound otherwise.
Mr Bachchan’s words on how an individual’s grief can affect those around the bereaved are most inspiring. In no time at all, Farhan’s Danish and Bachchan’s Panditji become the unlikeliest of friends. Bonded as they are by their shared anguish, the two souls become one in their unendurable pain.
Wazir has three heroes. Bachchan and Akhtar, of course, who are so effective individually and together that we wonder why they haven’t been cast together before. But the third and bigger hero of Wazir is the deviously clever script. Written by producer Vinod Chopra, along with Abhijat Joshi (of Munnabhai fame), this is quite comfortably the best emotional thriller from Bollywood in years.
Our heart never stops leaping into our mouths at the twists and turns that the characters encounter in their journey towards an apocalyptic finale. The narrative displays the kind of fluent unpredictable and original writing that we would like to see more often in Hindi cinema.
In its 1 hour and 40 minutes of playing-time, Wazir gives us no time to stop and ruminate. The pace, though frenetic, never lacks in grace. Director Bejoy Nambiar, whose two films Shaitaan and David, are among my favourites in recent years, is a master of the craft. His visual aesthetics are completely affiliated to the characters’ innerspace. Since neither Mr Bachchan nor Farhan’s characters have much to celebrate or feel happy about, the film is shot, by cinematographer Sanu Verghese, in dark brooding shades that suggest a tragic malfunction in the way God and politics work in our country.
The spot of sunshine in the otherwise dark and mood-drenched Wazir is Aditi Rao Hydari, who glows on the screen every time she appears. But this is not her film. The narrative remains fiercely focused and fastened on the Bachchan-Akhtar equation creating through their characters a cruel game to death that destiny plays on the most undeserving.
Mr Bachchan’s grieving character humours himself to stay alive. He is Anand, from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film, 40 years too late. Farhan Akhtar gives his most emotionally nourished performance to date. While in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag the performance depended on the actor’s physical preparation here Farhan relies completely on his internal world to make his character’s anguish a palpable entity.
Two other characters stand out. Manav Kaul’s performance as the Kashmiri politician with skeletons in his cupboard is sinister and ominous. Watch closely how he reacts to Farhan’s questioning in their first sequence together. These are brilliant actors at work.
This story so well told that you wish it had lasted a little longer so we could get to know the characters a little better. John Abraham shows up in an impressive key cameo bringing to his role of an intelligence officer the urgency that he had brought to Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe.
There is so much happening in Wazir on so many levels that you come away with a feeling of having lived through a lifetime’s experience compressed into a tightly edited (by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi) exposition on a relationship of shared grief. Till the end, Wazir remains true to its purpose, of conveying the emotions that underline the action. Its failing, if we can call it that, is that the characters do not stay with us long enough for us to know them well.
Never mind, better a film that moves away quickly rather than one that overstays its welcome. This looks like a terrific year ahead for Bollywood. Wazir is a solid start. A gripping thriller anchored by Bachchan and Akhtar’s compelling compatibility. Not to be missed.