July 19, 2013
Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Huma Qureshi, Arjun Rampal, Aakash Dahiya, Nasser, Shruti Haasan, K.K. Raina, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Sree Swara Dubey
For the most part, D-Day is an accomplished film – a script that’s unconventional for Bollywood is translated into a polished production peopled by talented actors. There are thrills aplenty, the gorgeous music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy is completely in tune with the brooding mood and as a bonus (allow me a moment of frivolity here, please) Arjun Rampal looks stunning in every frame he occupies. So the film can be forgiven for occasionally getting side-tracked from its mission of being realistic and a thriller. What’s truly troublesome though is the jarring bout of populism in the climax.
The story revolves around Iqbal, a Dawood Ibrahim-like figure living in Pakistan under the ISI’s watchful eye. When he defies the agency and insists on attending his son’s nikaah, India’s RAW puts in motion the covert Operation Goldman to forcibly extradite the man, without the Indian government’s official sanction. Read: the Indians working undercover in Pakistan on this mission are in a professional no man’s land: if they succeed they won’t get medals; if they fail, they’re nobody’s children.
The operation is executed by a quartet of Indian spies. Wali Khan entered Pakistan nine years back to merge with the local populace. He lives in Karachi as a barber with a Pakistani wife and son unaware of his reality. Rudra Pratap Singh is a suspended Armyman who takes up with a local prostitute to blend in, and falls in love. Aslam joins them as part of a deal to clear his criminal record back home. The woman in the group is not a mere glamour doll assigned to work the opposition’s testosterone; Zoya Hassan is an explosives expert with a troubled marriage.
Espionage is not Bollywood’s forte. It is to the credit of writer-director Nikhil Advani, his co-writers Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair and Niranjan Iyengar and the lead actors that they look and sound credible. Unlike Saif Ali Khan in Agent Vinod, these four don’t come across as kids playing cops ‘n’ robbers. After his very assured debut with Kal Ho Na Ho, Advani’s work went downhill. Salaam-e-Ishq and Patiala House were not without redeeming qualities, but Chandni Chowk to China was an absolute travesty for which he partially redeems himself with D-Day.
|Arjun Rampal's Rudra falls in love with a prostitute in Karachi played by Shruti Haasan
|Irrfan Khan (Wali Khan) and Huma Qureshi (Zoya Hassan) in a scene from D-Day
The nicest thing about this film is the air of poignancy that hovers about the protagonists. These are every country’s unsung heroes. Wali gets the most detailed story of the lot and Irrfan Khan breathes life into it, complemented in his efforts by the very attractive and poised newcomer Sree Swara Dubey playing his wife. We get to know less about Zoya and Aslam but actors Huma Qureshi and Aakash Dahiya still get us to care for them. In a neat touch, Zoya’s husband is represented by just the voice on the phone of the talented Raj Kumar Yadav. Arjun Rampal’s Rudra is the least well-written, least believable of the four – though an undercover operative, he makes a very public spectacle of himself in Karachi (on one occasion, aided by Wali); after he’s been compromised, he returns to a location where he could be recognised; his love story feels forced and needlessly slows down the narrative. Yet, the actor manages to convey a sense of tragedy about himself and a commitment to the “country” and “honour” he talks about without sounding in the least bit bombastic.
Much of the action in D-Day is set in low-lit, closed spaces. Tushar Kanti Ray’s camera conveys a claustrophobia that perhaps mirrors the sentiments of Iqbal whose life of freedom in Pakistan is clearly not as free as he’d like it to be. This, in fact, is one of the film’s main strengths: everyone has vulnerabilities, even the bad guys are not caricatures. Though the story is being told very much from the Indian point of view, every Pakistani is not satan, every Indian is not a saint. A big deal is not made about the religion of the Muslims among the Indians: they just happen to be who they happen to be. Without making a strained effort, D-Day is both balanced and secular.
Rishi Kapoor’s Dawood prototype is a laudable exercise in costume, makeup and styling. The actor is his usual naturalistic self but he doesn't give his Iqbal that edge one has come to expect from him. And in the climactic scene he is landed with a speech that shamelessly plays to the gallery among right-wingers in India. If the director feels that India is soft on terrorists, he should have found a way to make that point without departing from the overall tone of his film. That silly, cliched speech is borrowed from unthinking drawing room conversations and noisy TV panel discussions, and does a disservice both to the actor and the film. I know what you will do with me in India, cries Iqbal … you will offer me your hospitality … the way you offered your hospitality to Kasab … The response of one of the characters may appeal to every Indian who fantasises about India carrying out an Osama-style execution of Dawood in Pakistan, quite forgetting that we ain’t the superpower the USA is.
Detect bloodlust in the audience, cash in on it … A Wednesday did it back in 2008; in a smaller way, that’s what D-Day does too. Why bother with common sense and logic when populism has been known to work magic at the box-office? Why bother even if it messes up an otherwise significant film?
Rating (out of five): **9/10
CBFC Rating (India):
Alvida song video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WeL99EtJ_gDuma dam song video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euv2_DmSwNw
Digital motion poster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K3hoU6tY_4