Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My Wife's Murder (2005)

Every year, Ram Gopal Verma's Factory churns out so many movies of varied quality that the average quality level of these movies ends up being, well, quite average. It does give a lot of aspiring filmmakers a chance to put their skills in use, but the downside is that gems like Ek Hasina Thi get lost in the dust of movies like James. My Wife's Murder is one such gem, and maybe the best of the non-RGV directed Factory movies.

Ravi Patwardhan (Anil Kapoor) is a film editor with a wife (Suchitra Krishnamoorthi) who nags him for every minute he is at home. One such day, she irritates him to the point where he loses his cool and slaps her involuntarily ending up with a dead wife: she falls with a fatal damage to her skull. Now here is a man stuck in his own bedroom in the middle of the day with a dead wife and children about to arrive from school. And this is just the first 15 minutes. The rest of the movie is about Ravi trying to cover his deed and hide the truth from his children (8yrs & 4 yrs), from the in-laws, and from the police. Boman Irani plays Inspector Tejpal Randhawa who smells the fish and tries to smoke out the criminal. Nandana Sen plays Ravi's Editing apprentice.

While watching this movie I realized that its director, Jijy Philip, is not just a man who knows how to make a good movie, but he loves & reads cinema too. This you realize with the subtle and quite unexpected references & homage to Tarantino, Shyamalan & Hitchcock (and maybe others I couldn't identify) without once stooping to rip-offs. Jijy even sets his own style, and then cunningly plays with the audience's mind by side-stepping his own style in a few key scenes. This mix and a completely original style makes this movie and the man behind it a must for fans of Cinema and specifically of the thriller genre. He also comes up trumps in extracting performances from his cast, be it the seasoned Anil Kapoor, yuppie Nandana Sen or even the 8-year old son.

Anil Kapoor has not been this good and convincing since Eeshwar. His subtle and underplayed Ravi is a character that lives by compromise rather than conflict. He breathes a humility in Ravi that brings home the audience's empathy for his guilt and desperate state, such that was only a staple of method actors. Yet his performance is lost out on acclaim due to the misplaced glory in Bollywood Superstars. Sigh.

Anil Kapoor's guilt-ridden protagonist is made that much more believable partly due to Suchitra Krishnamoorthi's short but highly irritating and therefore highly effective role as Ravi's wife. Nobody wants her dead, but her death evokes sympathy for her accidental-killer more than anything. Boman Irani sheds his comic image within a few frames of his entry and continues to defy the lowly standards of Bollywood character roles. His cop is a realist and logical man who hounds his suspect as the want of a real (good) cop would be. The alluringly beautiful Nandana Sen (who I have not seen in any other movie) also plays a realistic character of the rich but earthly editing assistant to Ravi. Does her Reena just look up to Ravi, or is there a subdued crush too? Is her boyfriend's jealously well founded? Her character, like all others in the movie, are well fleshed out to make them real enough to be believable. This helps the director in dealing with the audience directly - he holds on to us not letting go for a single minute in the entire 103 minutes (only!) of this songless movie.

The director also uses a visual style quite alien to Hindi movies: using camera movements to forward the story, follow a character in a steadycam shot or to simply include the audience in the scene. He paints the movie void of any bright colours - there's nothing cheerful about what is unfolding on screen. The background score also plays the build with one particular scene having a clear Signs influence. Gone are any lumbering shots of the car driving down an entire road. We see it enter, and then we see it exit. The editor and the director acknowledge their audience to be intelligent enough to fill the gaps. What it does accomplish is a shorter and tighter movie, and a mostly edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Watch this movie. It is very interesting to delve into the mind of a middle-class humble accidental murderer - especially if he is Hindi speaking. If you like it, talk about it to your friends. Word-of-Mouth may just get this flop movie enough of a following to warrant the Director another effort. It would be worth it.

My Rating --> 4.5 of 5

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