Neeyat disappoints on various ‘whodunit’ parameters

Vidya Balan plays CBI office Mira Rao in Neeyat. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

There is a difference.

Director Anu Menon (who has tried out various genres in her middle-of-the-road ‘realistic’ fashion) calls the whodunit her ‘go-to’ genre when she wants to enthrall herself. But that, necessarily, does not mean she can make a thrilling one herself.

Neeyat (which means intention) only demonstrates, without a doubt, that a good intention of the makers need not imply a film delivered well. For the umpteenth time, in fact, it recalls a vintage Subhash Ghai quote to me, “Ideas don’t make good films. Scripts do.”

The film is again about Indians abroad, like this week’s OTT co-release, Blind. The venue is again Scotland, and that’s a heavy dose of ‘Scot’ Whisky! And considering that Scotland Yard is involved here, it looks like time to roll out the bagpipes!

On a serious level, Neeyat goes the Agatha Christie-Miss Marple way with a twist. The twist, no doubt, is ingenious as one, but poorly conceived in its details, like how CBI officer Mira Rao (Vidya Balan) deduces ingenious things a la the Marples, Poirots and Holmes of detective fiction (Those who will watch will know what I am saying, as spoilers are no-nos in reviewing suspense dramas).

The first half of the 132-minute film is well executed, but alas, the denouement seems more than a shade illogical, absurd and even fanciful. The script (written by too many cooks—five in all!—who spoil the broth and taste) brims with unexplained points. And Amazon Prime Video steps into theatrical feature film production with a loose-yet-plodding story that relies on their patent OTT trope—gay relationships! And this time, in plural!

Tycoon Akshay Kapoor, or AK as he is known (Ram Kapoor) is one of those besmirched Indian businessmen who has used his political and financial clout to swindle people galore and India itself of Rs. 23,000 crore (yes, you heard that right!).

On his birthday at his mansion in a hilly Scot terrain, with a forecast of stormy weather, he holds his birthday party for family, friends and ex-girlfriends too. He comes out with the shocking revelation that he plans to surrender so that he can fight to clear his name. His special guest, he says, is Mira Rao (Vidya Balan), who has come to take him away the next day, while the Scotland Yard team has not been able to make it thanks to the inclement weather.

After a chandelier falls in the living room and a dog belonging to a guest dies of apparently drinking champagne, things heat up when AK goes outdoors after a row with his son (Shashank Arora) and seemingly jumps off a cliff. But Mira says that it was murder, not suicide. So, whodunit?

And Miss Mira (not Marple) begins to investigate in her own way, unraveling skeletons in almost everyone’s closet, and many other things in actual closets, drawers and what-have-you. Obviously, a few murders follow as she is closing in on the culprit.

The first point that overwhelms the viewer is the overdone darkness in the cinematography (Andreas Neo). Classic old-fashioned mysteries are quite common in Hollywood and Britain, but none so literally dark (like Ms Anu, yours truly too is a whodunit addict and can say this with some authority!). Strangely, instead of adding to the atmosphere, this dark cinematography dilutes the impact as even some facial expressions remain unclear.

Merging an Indian scam in the digital era with mobilephones, homosexuality and an ancient and rural British mansion with all its aspects (tunnels, secret drawers, ornate chandeliers) seemed an excellent idea on paper but the execution is not just tepid but, as earlier said, far from astute. And so the film’s second half slides down into a dull narration compounded by the end that could have been far better (and easier!) conceived. So much so that a cerebral remake with such flaws and deficiencies removed would make a mark!

There is an acting-heavy cast here but only Ram Kapoor and Danesh Razvi as the party organizer (he is common to both Blind and this film) really impress. Shahana Goswami does well as Akshay Kapoor’s flame. Neeraj Kabi is effective in his nuanced role. The rest merely put in functional performances. Shefali Shah is wasted—criminally (pun intended, but again, Hush! No spoilers!)

Shockingly, Vidya Balan, deliberately shown here with inscrutable expressions throughout, is nowhere as effective as she normally is even in mediocre scripts. And after her recent OTT hattrick of releases (with the same producers)—Shakuntala Devi, Sherni and the brilliant Jalsa—this is her weakest character among them. The production design (Lydia Moss) obviously is excellent.

But this whodunit is far from that!

Rating: ** (And mind you, I am a sucker for whodunits as I enjoy their chills and thrills!) 

Abundantia Entertainment & Amazon Studios present Neeyat  Produced by: Vikram Malhotra  Directed by: Anu Menon  Written by: Anu Menon, Girvani Dhyani, Advaita Kala, Priya Venkataraman & Kausar Munir  Music: Mikey McCleary Starring: Vidya Balan, Ram Kapoor, Neeraj Kabi, Rahul Bose, Shahana Goswami, Amrita Puri, Danesh Razvi, Nikki Walia, Dipannita Sharma Atwal, Shashank Arora, Prajakta Koli, Ishika Mehra, Supreet Bedi & Sp.App.: Shefali Shah & others




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