Starring Saif Ali Khan, Rohan Mehra, Radhika Apte, Chitrangda Singh
Directed by Gauravv K Chawla
Rating: ****(4 Stars)
I can’t recall a single notable (or even non-notable) Indian film based on the plunging dips and giddying highs of the stock market.
Do you remember Harshad Mehta? How could you forget the podgy stockbroker who made thousands of Indians rich overnight and then it all ended in a financial mess in no time at all.
Saif Ali Khan’s Shakun Kothari’s destiny run on the same lines. Except that Saif as the wily ruthless Machiavellian stockbroker is everything that Harshad Mehta would have wanted to be. This is Saif’s most gloriously written and performed part, meaty witty and wicked. He chews into it exposing a sacred hunger that I didn’t notice in his last over-hyped outing.
Saif as Shakun is a trueblue Gujju who won’t let neo-affluence corrupt his cultural integrity. He slips into Gujju-fications with the unrehearsed cuteness of a tycoon who has long ceased to be cute to everyone including his own wife and children.
When debutant Rohan Mehra enters the plot as Rizwan there is no Shakun Kothari around. We know Rizwan idolizes Shakun and wants to be like him. That’s a very dangerous ambition to have. And who knows this better than Rizwan’s wife Chitrangda Singh who in a role severely conscripted by the plot’s bristling sinewiness, manages to find her redemptive moment in the grand finale.
There is no redemption for Shakun. He is showman a ball of fire hurling down an abyss, and enjoying every moment of it. The film takes great pride in being clued into the inside workings of the stock market. Yet it never lets the tone of know-all self-congratulation come in the way of telling us the story of ‘When Shakun Met Rohan’.
My quibble with the riveting script (Nikhil Advani, Parvez Sheikh, Aseem Arora) is that it takes its time in bringing the mentor and protégée together. Saif and the very fine and confident debutant Rohan Mehra don’t have enough scenes together. In fact Rohan builds a better bond with Saif’s screen-wife Chitrangda Singh in just one scene where the teary-eyed protégée tells his mentor’s wife that sometimes you just need to give the one you love a tight slap.
The written word seldom gets to be conveyed with such unvarnished directness in commercial Hindi cinema where everyone either talks florid or over-casual. In Baazaar the emotions are tightly reined-in as caustic vitriolic conversations are let loose with not a care about who’s eavesdropping.
My favourite line, and the one that says it all about Shakun Kothari is the one in the run-down Gujarati bhojanalaiya. “You think I come here because I love the food? No, the food is terrible! But it helps me never forget where I came from.”
The blazing brilliance of the line is never forgotten in a morality tale that never pushes its righteousness into our face. In fact I suspect the very assured debutant director Gauravv K Chawla actually enjoys his grey protagonist’s amorality. Saif’s blustering warmth keeps Shakun Kothari from falling apart even when the stakes are heavily weighed against him. While some of the other supporting performances just don’t match up (the ever-brilliant Manish Choudhary struggles in an underwritten role) Radhika Apte as Rizwan’s go-getting colleague makes space for herself.
In a way she tokenizes the film’s morality. In today’s times you have to push you way into attention.