Lahore Confidential movie review: A ham-handed spy flick from the man who once gave us Fanaa

Lahore Confidential is an espionage thriller starring Richa Chadha and Arunoday Singh that is too tepid to even be infuriating.

Anna MM Vetticad February 04, 2021 14:36:25 IST


With Kunal Kohli at the helm, it is natural to have some expectations from this thriller that blends espionage and romance. Kohli, after all, directed Fanaa (2006), which was so much more than its lovely music and the blazing chemistry between Kajol and Aamir Khan — it was a film that took a stand on the Kashmir imbroglio, a stand that is likely to create a storm among today’s Censors.

Kohli’s Lahore Confidential — created by journalist-turned-author S Hussain Zaidi and written by Vibha Singh — is, however, an insipid, please-all project. It is neither here nor there nor anywhere, signifying perhaps the dilemma of a team that is determined not to be rabidly Islamophobic in the manner of Kesari, Padmaavat, and a handful of other Bollywood films of the past seven years, but is also afraid to take a position that would antagonise the current Indian establishment, and does not quite know how to pull off that balancing act yet deliver a substantial, intelligent film. The result is a poorly written, wishy-washy story further hampered by passionless direction and sub-par production values.

This outcome is unfortunate, not only because of the track record of some of the names in the credits, but also because Lahore Confidential begins well. Early on, we are introduced to Ananya (played by Richa Chadha) who is an employee of the Indian government’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and is being pestered by her mother (Alka Amin) to get married. Ananya’s favourite companions are her books. The interactions between this nagging parent and her independent-minded offspring are amusing and have an energy that largely goes missing in the rest of the film.

It is particularly entertaining to witness the mother’s dilemma as her anxiety to get her daughter married clashes with her prejudice against Pakistan when confronted with the likelihood of the young woman hooking up with a Pakistani man.

This possibility arises when Ananya is sent on an assignment to the neighbouring country to establish a relationship with a well-connected event manager in Lahore called Rauf Ahmed Kazmi (Arunoday Singh) who could turn out to be an important source for R&AW. There too, some fun is to be had in Ananya’s dealings with her colleague Yukti (Karishma Tanna), an R&AW agent with a don’t-care attitude, a love for sex and a habit of objectifying men, in sharp contrast to the tendency of popular culture to incessantly objectify women. Richa Chadha does shy well, especially in that one scene in which she admits to a blossoming interest in Rauf in a conversation with Yukti. And Tanna as Yukti is a firebrand.

It is all downhill from there though. At 1 hour and 8 minutes, Lahore Confidential is unusually short for a Bollywood film, but it is far from being crisp and clever as you might expect from that unconventional length.

Firstly, Chadha and Singh don’t have particularly great chemistry, which serves as a millionth reminder that sparks are possible on screen only when good actors meet in well-directed, well-written scenes — look no further than the raging inferno between Singh himself and Aditi Rao Hydari in Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011).

Second, the plot is dependent on Ananya being stupid and R&AW being stupider. India’s premier intelligence agency as depicted by Lahore Confidential is even dumber than the spies in Neeraj Pandey’s Baby (2015) that starred Akshay Kumar.

Lahore Confidential movie review A hamhanded spy flick from the man who once gave us Fanaa

Richa Chadha and Arunoday Singh in a still from Lahore Confidential. Image from Twitter

In Ananya’s professional failings though, the script reveals something that goes beyond mindless writing – it reveals the writer’s bias. Those initial chats between Ananya and her mother were not, as it turns out, the innocuous humorous introductory scenes they seemed to be at the time; in fact, they were placed there to establish Ananya as a particular ‘type’ of woman who, in the eyes of the writer (as in the eyes of society at large), is assumed to be emotionally fragile because she is single past a certain socially acceptable age – Ananya in the denouement shows herself up to be the standard, patronising stereotype of the spinster as a lonely, desperate woman, ergo vulnerable, ergo gullible. This pigeon-holing is less blatant than the writing of the Veronica character in Homi Adajania’s Cocktail, and is therefore more likely to appeal to even the supposedly liberal viewers’ subconscious bias. In retrospect it then becomes clear that Yukti was constructed to tick all the checkboxes in Bollywood’s stereotype of a ‘strong’ woman: she drinks, she smokes, she is sexually promiscuous, she swears.

But it is pointless being irritated with such a half-hearted production. Even before the weak writing is revealed, it is hard to see past the entire film’s plastic look and scene after scene with hardly any human beings around in public spaces apart from the principal characters.

Although it has not been publicised as such, Lahore Confidential seems to be a follow-up to Zee5’s 2020 short feature London Confidential, which was about Indian undercover operations in London and was also created by S Hussain Zaidi. London Confidential is deficient reference material for anyone wanting to make a quality espionage flick in Bollywood. If the team of Lahore Confidential wanted inspiration from their home ground, they need not have gone too far back in time: Meghna Gulzar aced the genre with her brilliant Raazi in 2018. Or maybe they could have just rewatched Fanaa?

Lahore Confidential is too tepid to even be infuriating. Where oh where is the Kunal Kohli we once knew?

Lahore Confidential streams on Zee5.

Rating: *

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