By: Samar Khan
When you decide to cast the most iconic actor in Indian cinematic history alongside a burgeoning superstar, you had better be able to back up that level of star power with a script that is sublime from start to finish. Vidhu Vinod Chopra writes and produces this detective thriller that lacks the creative spark of his classic films (Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, 3 Idiots, P.K) but still makes for compelling viewing.
Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan outshine the story with their performances but the thrilling game they partake in is worthy of your attention.
I’m going to provide a brief synopsis for our readers here so you can appreciate why my review may tilt in a particular direction and will attempt to keep this synopsis as spoiler-free as possible. The film is essentially about police officer Daanish Ali, wonderfully brought to the screen by Farhan Akhtar whose life is turned inside out when his rash decision to chase after a notorious criminal with his daughter in the backseat turns fatal for his child. With his life turned inside out, fate leads him to the doorstep of the amputee chess teacher of his daughter Pandit Dhar, magnificently portrayed by the ever almighty Amitabh Bachchan. Both have experienced heartbreak, both bond over chess and the story takes off from there, with the aforementioned game of chess playing a key role in the dialogue and depiction of characters within the story. Trust me when I say that chess has never been more visceral and significant than in the metaphorical and literal ways that Wazir showcases it.
As passionate readers of our blog may recall, harkening back to the Dilwale review from a while back where we established what was necessary for a Bollywood film to be considered successful, there are three elements that tend to make up an excellent Bollywood film: a) The chemistry between the leads; b) An above-average soundtrack; and c) A story that is expertly delivered and hopefully original. Taking into account these three elements, Wazir fares pretty well, as shall be discussed below.
On the chemistry front, the acting was phenomenal from the two leads and notable as well. Notable because the film lacks the traditional Bollywood “boy-girl” pairing (sort of disheartening to consider how much prominence love stories take over other tales in Bollywood) and for how well it is delivered on screen. After a magnificent previous few years in which he has stolen the show in Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara while racking up countless acting-based awards for his turn in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Farhan Akhtar has firmly entrenched himself in that upper echelon of the finest actors working in Indian cinema today. He brings that same intensity to his performance as Daanish, providing audiences with the soulful man that lost his daughter, his wife due to the loss of his daughter and much of his sanity; that intensity elevates scenes such as a certain Rambo-esque scene early on that would appear comical in most films but is emotionally poignant due to the palpable pain etched on the face of a dejected Daanish. His performance is complemented by (and arguably outdone) by the legendary Bachchan, who simultaneously made the audience laugh with his wry humour and cry with the grief he brought to his character, Pandit Dhar. Amitabh is quite literally like fine wine; as he ages, he continues to get better and outdoes the work that established him as a global superstar.
Beyond the two leads, the supporting cast was rather thin with the performances varying wildly. Aditi Rao Hydari is as gorgeous as ever and lends some much-needed grounded-ness to the film, with her role as the disheartened wife upset at her husband losing her daughter working to slow things down and balance the pace of the film. Unfortunately, her role is rather limited, as she spends the majority of her time on screen quiet and crying which underscored the relatively unnecessary role of her character in the story, however well she may have performed. Neil Nitin Mukesh and John Abraham cameo and impress in their own ways, with the former shining as the titular character personified while the latter plays a rather generic role as a man that owes Akhtar’s Daanish from years past and sets up the climactic battle. While Abraham is fine and delivers what the role demanded of him, one cannot help but wonder that someone of his star power should have been afforded a larger role and the ability to impact the story in a more significant manner rather than being merely a plot device. Manav Kaul is fantastic as Yaazad Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician with a checkered past that plays an integral role in Pandit Dhar’s manipulation of Daanish as his pawn within their personal game of chess. Suffice it to say, while the twist was rather predictable, the acting and build-up makes the final reveal nearly as enjoyable as if it were unexpected.
Of course, great acting is supported by scripts that tend to be solid in themselves and that’s where Wazir is a little iffy. The dialogue and scenes between the two leads is utterly fantastic, with Amitabh’s “Khel Khel” a joy to hear every time it is uttered. The problems of the script arise when the supporting actors are involved, with the aforementioned weakness of Hydari and Abraham’s characters a definite sore point; there were some instances of stilted dialogue from some side actors that stood out, as they stood in stark contrast to the consistently solid delivery from our two leads. V.V. Chopra has established himself as a big name and has earned plaudits from major Hollywood directors the likes of James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron for his previous works but his work fails to live up to the high standards he set for himself, with the predictability of the twist and weakness of the supporting characters ensuring that his script does not reach the near flawlessness established by his wonderful 3 Idiots script. Bejoy Nambiar does a commendable job bringing Chopra’s script to life but unlike Rajkumar Hirani who directed the majority of Chopra’s previous scripts, he lacks the ability to distinguish himself with gorgeous cinematic shots and/or other visual quirks that help viewers distinguish star directors from one another.
Finally comes the part that can elevate even an awful Bollywood film to a passable level: the soundtrack. Wazir sets the bar high right from the get-go, with a wonderfully sappy song setting up the marital status of our star and leading into the moment that kick-starts the film. Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal combine for another duet, with their rendition of Tere Bin being as wonderful as you’d expect from the legendary crooners. The rest of the soundtrack is excellent as well (Maula sung by Javed Ali was a treat to listen to) but the standout song from the film has to be Ankit Tiwari’s Tu Mere Paas. Not only was the song itself wonderfully sung by the burgeoning talent, Nambiar and Chopra’s decision to play the chorus during nearly every emotional scene (of which there were many) was a fantastic decision, as it really drove home the ramifications upon one’s life that losing a daughter brings about. On that note alone, the soundtrack earns a passing grade.
Generally excellent chemistry between the leads and above average acting overall throughout the film? Check. A well-delivered story albeit one fraught with issues? Check. A soundtrack that is excellent and actually utilized appropriately? Check. Wazir was not a perfect film but for the revenge thriller it set out to tell, it succeeded and its relatively weak script was bailed out by a fantastic performance from the two lead actors as well as a soundtrack that should be part of one’s Bollywood playlist. While the film won’t be usurping the role of any of the classics of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s filmography, it is still worthy of a viewing and hopefully indicates that Bollywood in 2016 will be bringing out films of equally solid quality.
After careful consideration, The Film Lawyers have decided to grace Wazir with a grade of B (7.5/10).