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Rustom

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

Directed by Tinu Suresh Desai

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz and Arjan Bajwa

This movie feebly introduces elements of doubt in an otherwise heavily partisan tale; by presenting various perspectives of how a crime might have been executed, it tries to suggest the subjective and unreliable nature of human perception. The crime thriller’s intent here is to show how the motive of a husband who ends up killing his wife’s lover looks compelling to a 1950 Indian law-court, and scriptwriter Vipul K Rawal deploys his devices to buttress his belief that having after all angles been considered, there is simply no way that the man behind the ‘Three Shots That Shook The Nation’, a moral and patriotic naval officer who commanded respect could have bludgeoned the lusty eyed, villainous cad traitor who not only slept with his wife but also consorted with foreigners and indulged in shady deals to death. Sympathy is not the issue here, empathy is. The sordid material is given an understated treatment. Akshay Kumar has the best lines in a screenplay hell-bent on letting him have the last word.

Rustom is a heap of jigsaw pieces from the real life case that had set a lot of benchmarks back in the day and was the last case that was tried under the jury trial method. The film is clean of forced humor, no South-styled stunts, no song-and-dance routine with foreign dancers in the background and it’s more of a ‘treatment’ movie, a plot-driven fare which is an atonal mess that happens to contain some genuine pieces of compassion and wisdom. Audiences will have to sift through the clutter to find them, but they’re in there, hidden beneath Santosh Thundiyil’s overwrought camera work and a syrupy score. Creating 1950 Mumbai is a tricky proposition at best that requires both stunning and well thought out production design, and copious exposition about the rules of the world and how they work. Vagueness colours all; almost every moment of it is achingly beautiful to look at, with sets, visual effects, costumes and colour correction all coming together banishing emotional connections in the process.

Yet, for all its disjointed sentimentality, Rustom remains watchable – compelling, even – to the very end, mostly thanks to a stolid Akshay Kumar that absolutely refuses to be sucked into the muddied tropes that make up the screenplay.

Akshay Kumar (“KM Nanavati”) plays Commander Rustom Pavri, an honest, patriotic commander with the Indian Navy but wronged family man. Upon returning home after one of his assignments, he inevitably crossing paths with his estranged house maid, and discovers the extramarital affair of his wife with his acquaintance and a businessman Vikram Makhija (Arjan Bajwa). Soon after Rustom goes to the Police Station and surrenders himself after having pierced three bullets straight through the heart of Vikram. Naval officials wants his custody but Rustom refuses. Rustom who chooses to surrender himself for the murder of Vikram, decides to represent himself in the court for his defense. Public prosecutor Lakshman Khangani (Sachin Khedekar) gives Rustom a tough fight in the court.

The film does silly amounts of legwork to explain why Rustom was often travelling because of the nature of his job – why his gorgeous wife has cheated on him – and ultimately a scene inside the jail where Cynthia confesses about the affair which in evidently tries to give the picture some predictable feel-good-isms.

The case had become a huge media frenzy as the Editor in Chief of Truth newspaper, Erach Billimoria (Kumud Mishra), had openly declared his support for Rustom. He constantly championed him as the man who had committed a mistake in the moment. This resulted in Rustom getting a lot of support from the general public. But most of the extra story threads can’t undo the numerous clichés and caricatures of the leads, with the film’s central conflict finally coming into focus at the post-intermission mark.

The screenplay is so utterly tone-deaf, both intellectually and emotionally lazy. There are no distinct qualities, or any kind of through-line for that matter. One wonders if it started within a singular genre, and as shooting progressed it overburdened itself while trying to be a crowd-pleaser. Rustom is portrayed as a superman who knows what he is doing; he glorifies “Honour-killing” (of a different kind), and with much pomp, he walks away as if he’s pulled off the most epic heist of the human history. The threatening phone made to the Home Minister is not only a proof of Rustom’s intentions, but also contradicts Rustom’s earlier testimony that he’d only gone to ask Vikram whether he was ready to marry his wife! Yet that phone call is interpreted differently; and to top it all, the cringe-worthy weak defence of Rustom to the “towel” point raised by the defense lawyer, was a very valid.

The second half, however, doesn’t develop the dramatic conflicts between the character and the milieu that are hinted at earlier. The effect is simply to keep piling on and intensifying the legal battle that continues unveiling the motive of Rustom behind the murder of Vikram Makhija. Had Rustom been adapted from a more focused source, perhaps it might have had the soulful depth, playful profundity and the sagacious point of view it lacks. The climax is stirring but disposable and cheap. The film struggles with its mood swings and is marred by its own tonal and thematic inconsistencies. It also might have benefited from the single vision of a director who could bring sorely the missing soulfulness to Tinu Suresh Desai, whose previous “1920 London” was also uninteresting.

Akshay Kumar as Rustom, without doubt, plays one of the most challenging roles in his career and the seasoned actor enacts it with complete authority. Not only will Akshay’s fans adore him in this new avatar, even the skeptical types will applaud this superb act.

Despite rampant roteness and a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts, Rustom makes its connection through its smaller moments. It’s utterly unconcerned with being cool, to the point that its disregard for taste becomes a reward in itself. In its attempt to wring blood from a turnip, this Neeraj Pandey produced film impossibly draws something, as fleeting and unreliable as it is. It’s a bizarre, often foolish film, but not a bad one – and just interesting enough to deserve its audience.

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2 Responses

  1. Somreeta Mukherjee says:

    Agree totally! loved the way you summed up in the last line 🙂

  2. Siddhartha says:

    Glad kar diya humko! 😛

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