Friday, September 13, 2013


Release date:
September 13, 2013
Ahishor Solomon


Naseeruddin Shah, Randeep Hooda, Shernaz Patel, Vipin Sharma, Elena Kazan, Sharat Saxena

John Day is a mirage. There’s no better way to describe a thriller in which, as a viewer you keep waiting to reach that oasis in the distance that will make the trek through the burning desert worth it, but it just doesn’t come.

In the first half hour of the film when a girl dies while on vacation with her boyfriend, and we are later introduced to her grieving parents John and Maria Day, there’s a promise being held out of great revelations to come. “Have faith in God,” says John to his wife. “Have faith in God and then he treats you like shit?” she shoots back. Shortly afterwards, Maria is attacked in her home and there’s a hold-up in the bank where John is a manager. Aha, the plot thickens! But then the film takes too long to reveal its hand, and worse, that hand turns out to be a damp squib.

The length of time John Day takes to arrive at its climactic twists and turns might have been acceptable if that climax was intriguing. After all, the beauty of Manoj Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense was that a lumbering ride ended in one of the most fascinating film endings in history. Unfortunately, the promised oasis in John Day turns out to be a little shrub. In the end then, it matters little that Naseeruddin Shah and Shernaz Patel are sweet together as Mr and Mrs Day; or that this is that rare Hindi film featuring an elderly man as its hero; or that this is that rare Hindi film in which an old man is shown kissing his wife, however briefly; or that the production designer, background score composer and cinematographer join hands to build up an atmosphere of foreboding from the word go; or that some of the locations are scenic. Up to the 1980s, Hindi cinema was dominated by stereotyped Christian characters – gangsters, gangsters’ molls, bartenders, bootleggers, cabaret dancers, quasi-foreigners who could barely speak Hindi, drunken men, dress-wearing women who slept around unlike the virginal heroines and so on. From the 1990s onwards, Christians virtually disappeared from Hindi films. John Day is that rare post-1990s Hindi film with a Christian as a leading man and – surprise, surprise! – no Bollywood-esque stereotypes. Like the other positives though, this too fades into insignificance after a while as the film peters out with each passing scene.

Randeep Hooda delivers a generic performance as Gautam, the brooding, corrupt cop with a miserable past; we know he’s capable of far better than this. The interesting discovery in John Day is Elena Kazan playing his alcoholic girlfriend Tabassum Habibi. Unlike most other recent international imports into Bollywood (media reports tell me she’s of German-Russian ancestry), this girl can act.

What exactly is John Day about? Well, that’s the thing: it tries to be about a lot of things but ends up being about not much. Unlike producer Anjum Rizvi’s earlier film A Wednesday, this one does not have pace or contextual relevance to make it gripping (A Wednesday was also an anarchist’s dream that tapped into a prevailing national bloodlust, but that’s a different discussion). Here in John Day, there’s a father out to get revenge for the death of his daughter, a mother who blames herself for the tragedy, a gangster devoted to his religion and crime, an underworld-media nexus, a boy tormented by memories of sexual abuse, a man afraid of commitment, a woman desperately in love, a murky international corporation and a beautiful, vast stretch of land called Casablanca Estates in which I’d lost interest by the time its secret was finally unveiled.

Director Ahishor Solomon is clearly well-intentioned and not without talent, but he fails to bring it all together into a compelling, convincing whole. In the end, what remains is a feeling that he was trying to make a grand, profound film … the key word being “trying”. The overriding memory though, is of a “cigarette smoking is injurious to health” warning that inexplicably remains on screen throughout the film from the very first frame, even when there’s not a ciggie in sight; and two scenes of violence more gruesome than anything you’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hindi film.

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
2 hours 17 minutes

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