Ankur Arora Murder Case is such an opportunity lost! Director Suhail Tatari’s take on a medical negligence case in an Indian hospital – produced and written by Vikram Bhatt – sets itself up well in the first half with a straightforward, brisk storytelling style. I admit it requires a suspension of disbelief to accept that a hospital’s seniormost doctor would be the one conducting a simple appendectomy with no foreseeable complications, but let’s grant the team this much as cinematic licence. Brevity is the hallmark of the film until that appendicitis patient Ankur Arora goes under Dr Asthana’s knife. Unlike most Hindi film doctors, these medicos actually look convincing on the job, handling instruments and rattling off medical jargon with a comfort level that’s obviously come to them from the workshops they reportedly attended in preparation for the film. In fact, I can pinpoint the precise moment when the film begins to fall apart: it’s that moment when Ankur is lying in a coma and a looooong song suddenly bursts out in the background while the camera languorously strolls through the hospital, around the little boy’s room where his unhappy mother sits by his bedside, into the homes of the two medical interns involved in the case, showing us close-ups of their faces, long shots of them standing or sitting around… in short, wasting time, slowing down the narrative and giving us a sign of things to come in the rest of the film.
It’s downhill from then on. What follows is contrived melodrama which was completely unnecessary since there is so much tension and emotion intrinsic to the story of a young medical intern taking on an arrogant, ruthless, influential doctor whose carelessness kills the only child of a single mother. This could and should have been that rare, efficient medical thriller that Bollywood does not make. Could have been but is not because Tatari and Bhatt keep most of their characters one-dimensional while throwing into the blend songs, needless plot twists and unnecessary asides (like that affair between the film’s two lawyers). By the time the climax comes around, boredom has set in, thus dampening the surprise it throws up. Besides, in contrast with the authenticity of the hospital proceedings, the film’s courtroom scenes look plastic and defy law & logic.
Maybe I’m spoilt because right now I’m simultaneously watching re-runs of that beautiful American legal drama The Practice on TV along with the hospital-based series Grey’s Anatomy which may occasionally overdose us with romance and sex among its doctors but has not once so far – I repeat, not once – faltered in the coverage of the medical cases it brings us. Maybe I’m spoilt because just recently the Arshad Warsi-starrer Jolly LLB showed us that Bollywood is capable of portraying real courtrooms with real characters that could actually exist off screen. Actually, you know what, it’s none of the above… The truth is that I’m angry and disappointed because Suhail Tatari made his directorial debut with a lovely (though poorly publicised) film called Summer 2007 starring Sikander Kher, Gul Panag, Yuvika Chaudhary and Arjan Bajwa. AAMC marks many qualitative steps down from that film which was about a group of carefree, city-bred medical interns getting unwittingly involved in a series of farmers’ suicides while on a rural posting. Summer 2007 spoke in a consistent voice from start to finish. AAMC, on the other hand, seems to have compromised on a potentially hard-hitting story in the interests of what old-fashioned film folk describe as “commercial” demands.
Sad, because the film’s young leads Arjun Mathur and Vishakha Singh deserve so much better than this. Mathur and Singh play lovers Romesh and Riya, medical interns on opposing sides in Ankur Arora’s case. The writing of Riya’s character is definitely more nuanced than Romesh’s – she struggles with her conscience, he seems to face no internal battles whatsoever when he decides to risk his career to fight Dr Asthana – but with all the limitations imposed on them, they actually manage to appear credible right till the end. So does Tisca Chopra as Ankur’s grieving mother. Vishesh Tiwari – who we’ve earlier seen in Chillar Party and Ek Thi Daayan – is convincing in a brief appearance as Ankur. The role of Mrs Arora’s lawyer though required a better actress than Paoli Dam (the Bengali actress who made her Bollywood debut with Hate Story in 2012).
For proof that even the best actors are limited by the material at hand though, you need to watch the usually wonderful Kay Kay Menon as Dr Asthana. He’s fine through most of the film but his “Yes I am god” bhaashan towards the end is an embarrassing piece of writing and direction that good acting fails to save. Menon will no doubt get many chances to redeem himself. This industry that is tough on actors is far tougher on directors. For the sake of good cinema one can only hope that Suhail Tatari gets back on his feet, brushes himself off and finds a great script in which he invests sincerity and conviction, to make a film that’s worthy of his talent. Ankur Arora Murder Case is not that film.
Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating (India):
129 minutes (as per pvrcinemas.com)