By: Samar Khan
Rustom’s tagline reads as “3 shots that shocked a nation.” I’m here to unequivocally say that Rustom’s 3 shots also managed to impress the heck out of me.
Is there any actor that is as consistently solid as Akshay Kumar has been over the last handful of years? For every 5 films he releases, 3 or 4 prove to be well above average and go against the norm of what is expected in Bollywood nowadays. While stars such as Salman Khan continue to provide predictable family pleasers a la Sultan and Hrithik Roshan veers into delivering barely average thrillers every year, Akshay Kumar has given us the brilliant OMG: Oh My God!, Airlift, Baby and Special 26 amongst the typically above-average action thrillers interspersed in between. Now, collaborating again with super-writer-producer Neeraj Pandey (Baby, Special 26, A Wednesday), Kumar gives us the thrilling Rustom, the story of a decorated Navy officer who kills his wife’s lover and enters the court of public opinion. The film is a pure courtroom drama and we, being The Film LAWYERS, were right in our elements.
So, just how good was the film? As the review will further illustrate, Rustom has plenty of highs that are brought down just a tad by some glaring lows. It is a tale told through an arguably excessive use of flashbacks and vintage 1960s era “present” storytelling, woven mostly elegantly throughout.
Rustom’s tale is very simple on the surface: decorated and newlywed Rustom Pavri (played by the man whose acting ages like wine, Akshay Kumar) goes on leave aboard his Navy ship for 6 months, returns to find out his wife, Cynthia (played by Ileana D’Cruz), cheated on him and kills her “lover,” Vikram Makhija (in a great turn by Arjan Bajwa), in cold blood. Where the plot shines, however, is in its ability to take what is a relatively flimsy tale and spice it up with conspiracy and mystery, managing to make this a tale that resonates with the most jingoistic of people and those that appreciate themselves a thriller in place of slow-paced dramas.
The film’s first half takes focus quickly, setting up the murder within the opening 15 minutes and paving the way for the rest of the film to build upon the intro without having to worry about time constraints. It’s become a common theme in Akshay Kumar’s films to start off with a fantastic musical number within the first 5 minutes and establish the story within the song being sung and not worry about being too expository. That is the case here as well, with Atif Aslam’s rendition of “Tere Sung Yaara” setting up the marriage and departure of our lead and transitioning straight into the murder. Powerful stuff, I tell you.
The second half is entirely a courtroom drama, with the aforementioned decorated (when I say decorated, I mean it; Kumar’s character was at iconic levels of popularity within the context of the story for his exploits at sea) Rustom having to prove to a jury that he was truly innocent in his intention (if not his action) for why he committed his murder. Credit to the writing team, who managed to have our hero win and yet not have all of the bad guys lose as badly as we are accustomed to, with some villains losing nothing but money at the end (better than losing their lives).
The plot and dialogue weren’t entirely perfect, of course. Some scenes could have benefited from additional exposition and the excessive use of flashbacks became grating after a while, especially when spread out over the entirety of the film. While that doesn’t sound necessarily like a bad thing, having to wait for 2 and a half hours for the final flashback to occur can cause one to question the pacing and length of the film, both of which were slight issues. In terms of the dialogue, it was a mixed bread. Kumar had excellent lines and delivered them with the intonation and ease we are used to seeing him excel at nowadays. D’Cruz and Bajwa had some downright cringe-worthy lines that detracted from the overall quality of their work and highlighted the disparity between the lead actor and his supporting cast.
This is a segment that was very easy to write about, as the acting and characters chosen for the film were the strongest parts. For starters, Kumar shined as the Navy Commander and carried himself with a swagger and genuineness that made me believe he truly could pull off a real-life XO. D’Cruz was fairly solid and shined in the emotional moments (of which were plenty), while the inconsistent writing for her character did her no favours with some poorly written dialogue that anyone would struggle to pull off. Arjan Bajwa was excellent as the sleazy, wealthy “lover,” playing his character with a malice and smugness that made audiences want to punch him in the face. That’s a sign of a job well done (outside of some spotty dialogue for him as well).
The highlight of the supporting cast (and probably the film overall) was easily Kumud Mishra. After brilliant performances in Rockstar, Raanjhanaa, Badlapur and Airlift, Mishra was underutilized in last month’s Sultan but more than made up for his absence in that film with a star-making comedic effort in Rustom. Displaying excellent comedic timing and playing the role of a manipulative, greedy newspaper owner, Mishra proceeded to liven up the entire second half with his witty appearances in the otherwise somber courtroom segments focused on murder. Trust me when I say that you will walk in expecting Akshay to shine and, which while he does, Mishra still manages to steal the show.
Esha Gupta (as Priti Makhija), Pavan Malhotra (as Inspector Lobo), Sachin Khedekar (as the slimy prosecutor Khangani), Parmeet Sethi (as the corrupt Rear Admiral Kamath) and Anang Desai (as the judge) round out the supporting cast. Outside of Gupta (who looked considerably better than the performance she delivered), the cast was excellent. It was a treat to see Desai in a role not based around being a villain and his deadpan humour and back-and-forth with the slimy character played by Khedekar was a true highlight of the film.
Let’s see. Atif Aslam starts off the film with an excellent song? Check. Arijit Singh appears and delivers another very good song? Check. Shreya Ghoshal appears and delivers a great solo effort as well? Check. Arko, fresh off the utterly brilliant song “Saathi Re” from the equally brilliant Kapoor and Sons, gives us a song? Check. I’m not sure how many other ways exist for one to say “THIS SOUNDTRACK IS VERY GOOD AND ELEVATES THE FILM!”
The background score as well was very good. The deep booms when required, the appropriate use of the surprisingly great “Rustom Vahi” score throughout the film in epic moments were just some examples of the sound for the film being on point. All in all, the score and soundtrack served to elevate the film in a genre and industry that typically sinks or swims based upon how the sound plays out.
The attention to detail by the film’s creators in crafting an entirely believable Bombay circa 1960 deserves a special mention. Vibrant yet still vintage in terms of the palate, the film’s authentic nature was accentuated by just how 1960’s everything felt. From the hairdos to the dialect to the cars to the unique touches of highlighting the use of morse code upon ships, the creators took every pain to ensure that it felt real, so major kudos to them.
The writer’s decision to portray Rustom’s concern for how his fellow countrymen viewed the government and vital forces such as the Navy and the military was a nice touch, if not too jingoistic and on-the-nose about it all. Whereas Airlift hammered home how patriotic about India it was, Rustom was more casual but probably could have toned it down just a tad. Not a major complaint, just an observation.
Akshay Kumar recently announced that he is teaming up with Neeraj Pandey again for his next film, Crack, and I could not be more excited. This is a partnership that has been very good the last few years and with Rustom, deliver one of the stronger Bollywood efforts of the year. As of right now, Rustom is the best Bollywood film of the summer.
+ Stellar performance by Kumar in the lead role
+ Not your cookie-cutter masala action thriller
+ Kumud Mishra, enough said
+ Wonderful soundtrack
+ Attention to detail in creation of 1960’s Bombay
– Esha Gupta’s acting
– Excessive flashbacks and placement
– Spotty dialogue at times
We here at The Film Lawyers are happy to grace Rustom with a grade of B- (7.4/10).