Farhan's Danish is an intriguing bundle of contradictions, nervous yet valorous, rebellious yet defeated by a tragedy that defines his life for the entire film. It's what Varun Dhawan went through in Sriram Raghavan's Badlapur but only far more devastating in its ramifications.
Even as we try to understand the workings of Danish's mind, the script, always ahead of us, introduces the amazingly spirited paraplegic Pandit Omkarnath Dhar. From his first moment on screen Amitabh Bachchan takes possession of his character as only he can. We first see him surrounded with intelligent little children whom he teaches how to play chess.
The game of shatranj is used to shut away the ranj (grief). A lot of the dialogues on life's vagaries expectedly use chess metaphors. But dialogue writer Abhijeet Deshpande never goes over the chess board. The grief stricken characters speak as though life has taught them to be wiser than they would sound otherwise. I especially liked Mr Bachchan's words on how an individual's grief can affect those around the bereaved.
In no time at all Farhan's Danish and Bachchan's Panditji become the unlikeliest of friends. Bonded as they are by their shared anguish, the two bereaved souls become one in their unendurable pain.
Wazir has three heroes. Bachchan and Akhtar of course, so effective individually and together that we wonder, why they haven't been cast together before? But the third and bigger hero of Wazir is the devious and non-ostentatiously clever script. Written by producer Vinod Chopra, along with Abhijat (Munnabhai) Joshi, this is quite comfortably the best emotional thriller from Bollywood in years.
Our heart never stops leaping into our mouths at the twists and turns that the characters encounter in their journey towards an apocalyptic finale. The narrative displays the kind of fluent unpredictable and original writing that we would like to see more often in Hindi cinema. If only…
In its 1 hour and 40 minutes of playing-time Wazir gives us no time to stop and ruminate. The pace, though frenetic, never lacks in grace. Director Bejoy Nambiar whose two films so far Shaitaan and David are among my favourites in recent years is a master of the craft. His visual aesthetics are completely affiliated to the characters' inner space. Since neither Mr Bachchan nor Farhan's characters have much to celebrate or feel happy about, the film is shot, by cinematographer Sanu Verghese in dark brooding shades that suggest a tragic malfunction in the way God and politics work in our country.
One crucial shoe-throwing episode shot against a dawn-drenched Rashtrapati Bhavan is a classic mood composition.
The spot of sunshine in the otherwise dark and mood-drenched take is Aditi Rao who glows on the screen every time she appears. But sorry, this is not her film. The narrative remains fiercely focused and fastened on the Bachchan-Akhtar equation creating through their characters a cruel game to death that destiny plays on the most undeserving.
Two other characters stand out. Manav Kaul's performance as the Kashmiri politician with skeletons in his cupboard is sinister and ominous. Watch closely how he reacts to Farhan's questioning in their first sequence together. These are brilliant actors at work. Speaking of which Neil Nitin Mukesh in the title role (am I allowed to reveals that?) is electrifying in the limited time he has on screen.
This story is so well told that you wish it had lasted a little longer so we could get to know the characters a little better. John Abraham shows up in an impressive key cameo bringing to his role of an intelligence officer the urgency that he had brought to Shoojit Sircar's Madras Cafe. I want to see him do a desi Bourne.
The songs (Shantanu Moitra) pinned to the background egg on the emotions underpinning the action to a sense of meditative alacrity.
There is so much happening in Wazir on so many levels that you come away with a feeling of having lived through a lifetime's experience compressed into a tightly edited (by Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Abhijat Joshi) exposition on a relationship of shared grief. Till the end, Wazir remains true to its purpose, of conveying the emotions that underline the action. It's failing, if we can call it that is that the characters do not stay with us long enough for us to know them well.
Never mind, better a film that moves away quickly rather than one that overstays its welcome. This looks like a terrific year ahead for Bollywood. Wazir is a solid start. A gripping thriller anchored by Bachchan and Akhtar's compelling compatibility. Not to be missed.