Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
Most of the Indian Hindi-language films we watch today are restricted to a certain “potboiler” pattern. Make the movies as colorful, loud and regressive as possible, and you’ve got yourself a successful movie that doesn’t exactly fulfill the expectations the more discerning viewers will have out of a movie as an art form.
Roy, however, definitely looked like the film that was ready to make a difference. Despite the rather horribly edited and mixed first-look trailer, there was enough footage in it to make one sit up and notice. Starring some already credible actors in the form of Arjun Rampal (The Last Lear) and Ranbir Kapoor (Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year), this film also sparks up an unlimited groundspace for potential in Jacqueline Fernandes (Aladin), who’s probably playing what superficially looks like the best character(s?) of her career so far.
The Hindi film loving audience has seen 2015 start on a rather good note, with a commercially viable action-thriller Baby mostly (if not always) hitting the right notes on writing, direction and performances, and sans the usual drivel we hear in the name of music. With its collections safely ensuring the moderate success it’s achieved, one would most definitely expect the doors to have opened up for different forms of genre cinema to succeed in the stratosphere of Indian Hindi-Language films.
This is exactly what makes Roy a major contender in cinema that actually makes a difference in film as an art-form. Add to that the pleasant supporting soundtrack and the inclusion of the right aforementioned talent, and you’ve got with yourself a film you can safely expect something different from.
What’s it About?
Maverick filmmaker and ladies’ man Kabir Grewal (Arjun Rampal) sets off to make the third part of his revered Guns action-heist franchise. Suffering through intermittent writers’ blocks, he finally begins shooting the film in a rather experimental fashion; writing while he shoots. This is when he meets the London-based independent filmmaker Ayesha Aamir (Jacqueline Fernandes), and things in his life – and his ever-evolving screenplay – start to change.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Writer-director Vikramjit Singh has the advantage of the “clean-slate” on his hands. The debutant that he is, what he doesn’t have to worry about is the fulfillment-of-expectations most experienced moviemakers have to go through. Making a fine use of that leeway, he spins up a rather passionate romance between two people on different sides of the same career choice. And whilst not making the whole aspect completely obvious, he manages to flesh out an interesting character study of a writer and his during-script whims.
While incomparable to Leena Yadav’s Shabd (lit.: word), the only other credible film on the psychological after-effects of the writing process in the past two decades, the movie still manages to make a lot of statements on how incidents around filmmakers affect the story they’re writing, and why they want to take the story a certain way than the route the audience that’s been expecting something out of them would want them to. You’d never expect John Hughes to do She’s Having a Baby, and you’d certainly never expect Ridley Scott doing The Counselor. Yet, with evolution of an artist’s life, both perception of the world and its creative outlet change drastically sometimes.
Singh, for the most, has written a screenplay that’s not just smart on narrative decisions, but also on the rather impressively penned dialogue. You have a host of scenes with minimal exposition, allowing the viewers to understand characters in question very well. Let’s have a few examples here to picture exactly what I mean:
Picture an insecure writer-director (Rampal), who’s having his first conversation with the only woman (Fernandes) in the lounge they’re situated in.
“I keep wondering if you’re actually the elaborate painting the media’s planted on our walls, or if that painting is what you’re desperately trying to characteristically embody within yourself,” she coolly remarks.
This kind of conversation – wrapped in symbols and metaphors – forms most of how the characters voice out their emotions; in curiosity and conflict, they’re always outplaying each other with wordplay.
But that’s not all. For all the heady Jesse-and-Celine inspired conversation, there’s also randomness in dialogue and in scene structure headily indulged into, and you get a melange of scenes that will bewilder you to a major extent. There’s a scene that toys with the protagonist’s movie-like fantasy of a second chance, ruptured almost second later by its not-so-pretty parallel reality. Life, just like those random fantasies and conversations, is strange, and it is this very non-structure that’s captured finely for most part.
Singh’s made a brave decision to keep the color tones mostly similar between the two universes the film shifts between. This is bound to cause a high number of nonplussed viewers to erupt in confusion of the film’s ever shifting plot. Tie that in with the gorgeous cinematography by Himman Dhamija (The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey) and you have an exceptional looking movie, framed with care, and giving a certain texture to the dramatic events the film is engulfed by. Dipika Kalra, who has behind her an interesting filmography that consists of the likes of Udaan (lit.: Flight) and Lootera (lit.: Thief), makes some fantastic edit decisions. Some dissolves used as transitions through the film seem well thought out keeping in mind the rule of threes in a frame. Kalra also does a fine job with the swiftly edited action-set piece that appears in the last quarter of the film; a well-choreographed piece that’s riveting for the thirty-odd seconds it’s there for. The production design is classy and brings out a certain polish that makes the film have an inherently international look and feel.
Despite all the absolutely dazzling highs of the film, the end-product feels like an unfortunate missed opportunity. There are many scenes which feel half-baked, and despite the superior direction the movie’s headed in, you realize that Singh, strong writer that he is, might not be the strongest director on the block yet. Overindulgence flows through in oodles and oodles. In a rather abrupt display of emotion (a masterstroke), Fernandes’ Ayesha reveals to Rampal’s Kabir her lifelong dream to become a ballet dancer. What should have cut to the next direction turns into a milking-of-emotion where Fernandes decides to dance while Rampal spectates. Now, even in individuality, this could have been an exceptional scene, but the over-dramatization drops down the deserved crescendo it could have gotten. The second half is plagued with similarly stretched out scenes wherein you’re presented a long-drawn set of scenes sans the emotion. This failure I could totally attribute to the jarring, unnecessary background score that is repetitive, loud and keeps appearing at times we’d really appreciate the quiet in conversation.
Another completely unnecessary aspect through the film’s runtime is the inclusion of original music. There’s a structure in romance films in the Indian Hindi film industry when it comes to its original music; you’ve got the happy situational, the moon-dipped-in-honey romance ballad, (of late) the romance EDM track and the inevitable melancholic-montage track. And that is exactly the structure that’s followed here. A certain flirtatious conversation later, you’re presented with an abrupt, random song-and-dance number at a set that doesn’t even resemble the rest of the movie’s visual realism. The pre-climactic portions receive the undeserving speed-breaker with a romance ballad, and to throw in some movie marketability there’s your standard love-is-in-the-air-so-let’s-dance-in-the-club-in-slow-motion EDM track. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for dancing in the club in slo-mo to an EDM track, simply because of how well-lit most of these songs usually are. Simply using it to peg the movie as a saleable prospect, however, is a very cheap move – and despite the song being absolutely easy on the ears, that’s how it felt.
What I’ll blame the most with regard to a certain set of expectations set toward the film, however, is the trailer. Mounting it to be a mystery drama-thriller with a thread of romance, the trailer fails to capture the actual essence of the film, which is far deeper than the promos superficially make it look. It’s a shame that the saleability of movies is attributed solely to some appallingly superficial elements that drive audiences in. Then again, it’s a shame the audiences don’t exactly want to contribute to films that are better set at making the viewers think than anything else. Marketing teams of films need to understand, howsoever, that promoting character studies as action-thrillers on the basis of just one simple action set piece will, in the long run, not do the movie any good at all.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Arjun Rampal and Ranbir Kapoor are given heavily restrictive emotions, of which Rampal comes out a clear winner as a whole. Kapoor does have his shining moment during the last half of the film, but his pokerface does him no good for its firs half, making most of his dialogue deliveries seem like enunciations. Rampal is brilliant with his understated emotion, which shows in one of his conversations with Shernaz Patel, wherein he advises her to leave before her motivation breaks him down emotionally. Patel, the fantastic character actor that she’s always been, does a great job her too. She’s a natural, and her character’s relationship with Rampal’s is free-flowing and effortless. Jacqueline Fernandes is the biggest surprise of the film though. Having previously been a part of some of the most superficial (albeit successful) movies before this, she manages to come on her own, delivering an imprerssive level of confidence, charm and astute emotion. Rajit Kapoor attempts to pul off the seventies slow-burn police-detective, but tends to become unintentionally hilarious in more places than he should. Anupam Kher is efficient. The others are good.
Vikramjit Singh is a talent alright; raw, but definitely one to watch out for. While his debut outing bites off far more than he can chew, the ambitiousness in the writing of this film is enough for me to state that he’s here to stay. With a host of artist-driven overindulgences and cookie-cutter studio decisions giving it a definite drop from the level it deserved being a part of, the movie is still eminently watchable for a lot of the fantastic narrative decisions, and character-psyche studies, boosted only by some absolutely impressive performances, particularly by Jacqueline Fernandes, who showcases a her finest acting range right here in this film.
Ultimately, Roy is a wildly imperfect – and a wildly fascinating – movie to watch. In equal doses interesting and random, it definitely is a lost opportunity, but it’s a lost opportunity I stand by, because the end product feels inherently personal and passionate.
Star Rating: 3 / 5