A Gentleman: Kudos to Sidharth, Jacqueline and directors Raj-DK for showing us how it's done
With Mubarakan, A Gentleman, Mersal and Judwaa 2 all exploring the concept of identical-looking people (whether its twins or doppelgangers), the popularity of films with the double-role trope has suddenly surged.
In A Gentleman, Sidharth Malhotra plays two roles: Gaurav, who is safe, and Rishi, who is risky. Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez) is on the receiving end of the confusion between the two identical looking characters.
If you've seen the trailer of A Gentleman, both Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez have performed in a manner we've never seen before. This only proves good direction can make a world of a difference. Sidharth is able to balance between the two characters Rishi and Gaurav with ease in the trailer, and Jacqueline seems to be the catalyst around which all the events happen. Raj and DK have an impressive filmography: Shor In the city and Go Goa Gone are two of my favourite films. Will A Gentleman prove to be the acting break both Jacqueline and Sidharth need?
Gaurav is a matrimonial ad waiting to be written. His hair is patted down with all the world's hair gel and he's the quintessential good-looking good boy. We're introduced to his character in the first few minutes of the film and the first word that comes to mind is paavam (a Tamil word that roughly translates as 'awww poor thing').
The film is set in Miami and therefore, Jacqueline's Kavya has a legit reason to have an accent. Kavya pushes him to be more youthful, cooler. However here's the catch: While the whole world thinks Gaurav is a 'gentleman', Kavya thinks he's too safe. It's why they are just friends, even though Gaurav is clearly crushing on her.
Enter Rishi. He's everything Gaurav is not. Risky, sauve, dangerous and mysterious. The most effective way to distinguish between Gaurav and Rishi (beyond setting and clothes), is Sidharth Malhotra's expressions. He's able to change his whole demeanour and body language based on who he's playing.
Rishi's introduction happens in Bangkok, while he's executing a heist under the order of 'Colonel' (Suniel Shetty), who plays the head of Rishi's con clan. Watching him on screen after so long is exciting, as he's not lost his screen presence (and actually has gained newfound sexiness, what with the beard)
The events of the film kept shifting between Miami, Bangkok and Mumbai, as we see Gaurav dealing with the pitfalls of being nice guy, while Rishi deals with the morality of being a contract thief/killer.
A lot of screen time is spent showing us how Gaurav wants what Rishi has: which is the edge, the mystery and several dimensions to his character. Meanwhile, Rishi, who is sick of living an immoral life, wants to settle down and find love. While the irony is evident it didn't add much to the narrative well into the first half. Everything seems misplaced. Forty minutes into the film and we're still establishing characters, which is leading to much confusion.
However, Raj and DK's treatment of this narrative is funny, and some scenes are genuinely hilarious, buying into the confusion they have built for themselves.
Coming back to the plot, Rishi decides he's had enough of being a conman, so he confronts Colonel and quits his job. He then lands up in Goa and sparks off a chain of events. Colonel asks him to help out with one last final project in Mumbai. And at the same time, Gaurav's boss sends him from Miami to Mumbai for work.
Finally the narrative picks up, and we know to expect impending confusion, and humour, owing to their identical looks.
Another hilarious scene that deserves mention is one involving Rishi pretending to be gay to stall someone important, who his gang is trying to use for their last heist. It's impressive to see that this scene is treated with sensitivity and not sensationalism.
The final nail in this misplaced yet interesting narrative is when we find out Rishi's last heist involves Gaurav and his trip to Mumbai.
Cue confusion. Finally, A Gentleman has my full attention.
No matter where the film is based/keeps switching to, Raj and DK really know how to celebrate Mumbai in their depiction, especially with the visuals. They had done so in Shor in the City and you can see the same vision in A Gentleman. The best action scenes are reserved for the claustrophobic bylines of Mumbai's suburbs.
The mid-point break really seals all the misplaced-ness from the ongoing narrative. It makes up for all the confusion, and without giving much away, suffice it to say that by the interval, the story starts to make sense. The double role confusion is given a massive yet impressive twist and I'm totally sinking into it.
All I'll say is the confusion revolves around identity, and it's this identity crisis that creates several plot points in the film. Whether it's about Gaurav and his project in Mumbai, or Rishi and his last heist in Mumbai, everything gets jumbled and mashed into one story.
If the first half was all over the place, the second half picks up steam, and resembles a cohesive story. Raj and DK have thrashed out how to include implausible tropes like the double role, and also having songs in the film. Not only are the songs foot-tapping, they don't hamper the story.
Save from tying up a few lose ends, the second half is dedicated largely to Kavya and Gaurav. Her parents come to Miami and want to set them up together, but she's not interested in marriage yet. However, whatever happened in Mumbai isn't leaving them. Not only is the underworld of Miami now involved, Gaurav and Kavya are the targets. Meanwhile, those two are still discovering each other.
Finally — a Bollywood film that doesn't force its two leads to fall in love just because they're good looking!
Special mention to Hussain Dalal, who plays Gaurav's friend Dixit, and Amit Mistry who plays a Gujarati don in Miami. Both bring in regular doses of humour.
The last film that had the balance between commercial tropes and an innovative narrative was Dishoom — incidentally starring Sidharth's Student Of The Year co-star Varun Dhawan. The film didn't take audience sensibilities for granted, and neither does A Gentleman. This is how we should do commercial films: good-looking lead pair, great songs (even if somewhat generic) and a story that pulls you in.
While watching the film, I noticed the audiences laughing, discussing possibilities and coming to conclusions. These are the kind of films we deserve. Even though A Gentleman takes time get into the groove of its own narrative and confusion, it makes up for it with a cracker of a second half. Sidharth as Gaurav/Rishi, Jacqueline as Kavya, and all the other supporting actors play their part well in unraveling the story for us.
The action isn't larger than life, and even comical at times, engaging even the most anti-action person (like me). The tone of the film keeps shifting between funny, serious, confusion and finally, almost like a Guy Ritchie film, ties up in the last few moments, with aplomb.
A Gentleman is impressive: well done, Raj-DK, Sidharth and Jacqueline.