February 1, 2013
Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vinay Virmani, Vikram, Monica Dogra, Neil Bhoopalam, Milind Soman, Anupama Kumar, Nassar, Lara Dutta, Rohini Hattangadi, Tabu, Isha Sharvani, Prahlad Kakkar, Nishan Nanaiah
David is based on potentially explosive material that proves to be a damp squib. Director Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan – released in 2011 – was beautiful in its slickness but most unfortunately opted for style over substance. David, on the other hand, has the makings of great style and great substance, but fails to go the whole hog on either front. Still, the content is unusual enough to be worth discussing.
This is the story of 3 men with the same name in 3 different cities of the world, whose lives we enter in 3 different years. London, 1975: David played by Neil Nitin Mukesh is the loyal lieutenant of a gangster. Mumbai, 1999: David played by Vinay Virmani is an aspiring musician who can’t get along with his father, the pious priest Fr Noel, though his sisters dote on dad. Goa, 2010: David played by Vikram is a drunken layabout in a Goan village whose bride left him at the altar on his wedding day.
The London episode is about family politics and an international political game involving a government and gangsters, with an interesting twist at the end. The Mumbai episode most unexpectedly leads to charges of “forced conversion” against Fr Noel by a dangerously opportunistic and violence-prone Maharashtra politician in a chilling scene that’s the most well executed part of this film. The Goan story leads … well … it leads nowhere in particular.
The film’s problems begin right at the beginning with the tiresome inter-weaving of 3 tales and the constant, confusing back-and-forth between 3 decades. Too much time is spent on introducing us to too many characters – particularly in the London episode – and by the time the actual action takes off, it’s the interval and already too late to salvage the film. Still, the slick production values are definitely worth noting as is the interesting decision to present London 1975 in black and white. The retro look of that episode – costumes, hairstyles et al – are very well done. And the three main players are supported by some excellent performances, especially Nassar as Fr Noel and Rohini Hattagandi as the Maharashtra neta Malti Tai.
Of the three leads, the handsome National Award-winning actor Vikram is dealt the poorest hand by this film. Anyone who has seen his work in Tamil knows his brilliance. Hindi film buffs may also recall how his small role as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s husband in the Hindi version of Mani Ratnam’s Raavan outshone Abhishek Bachchan’s central performance. But the best actors in the world are helpless in the face of limited material, which is what Vikram suffers in David. The Goa episode featuring him meanders too much and has the most awkward ending of the three. Neil is effective in the London saga and makes a very interesting physical transformation post-interval of which I can’t give you details since that would involve spoilers. And the events unfolding in Mumbai 1999 give us Vinay Virmani, a talented young Canadian actor of Indian origin who we in India earlier saw in the Canadian-Indian co-production Speedy Singhs aka Breakaway in 2011.
As it happens, the Mumbai saga is the most memorable of the three not just because of the good acting all around but also because it’s handled most effectively, the subject is one that Bollywood has not touched before and even the mainstream news media avoids. Christians in Hindi cinema up to the 1990s were almost always portrayed as drunkards and gangsters, cabaret dancers and gangsters’ molls, quasi-foreigners who barely spoke Hindi and only wore western clothes. From the 1990s onwards, the community virtually disappeared from Hindi films which is how it remains even today, apart from rare exceptions like Homi Adajania’s Cocktail in 2012 in which the overtly Christian name Veronica was sneakily given to Deepika Padukone’s heavy-drinking, heavy-smoking, drug-taking, sexually promiscuous character to be contrasted with the overtly Hindu Meera (played by Diana Penty) who does not drink, does not smoke, does not take drugs and does not have sex. Genuine concerns of India’s Christians have almost always been ignored by Bollywood. What makes David unusual is that it takes a position on the canard of “forced conversions” that has been spread against Indian Christians by communal propagandists, and the violence and intimidation the community has faced in several states that is rarely covered by the national media.
This crucial issue merited a separate film. The London episode in David too could have been another film. Why Bejoy Nambiar chose to force all three stories into one celluloid venture is a mystery. Their intersection in the end feels contrived; the common name for the three men, as it turns out, has no particular significance; and the editing, especially of the Goa story, is surprisingly lax considering that the man on the job is the highly respected Sreekar Prasad. The result: David is so tedious that it’s hard to focus on its very unusual pluses. This is a film that does not seem to know where it’s going.
Rating (out of five): **1/4
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_(2013_Hindi_film)