Ittefaq Movie Review: Refreshing And Clever

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Ittefaq Movie Review: Refreshing And Clever

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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he first few minutes of Ittefaq, a modern update on the 1969 film of the same name, come uncomfortably close to confirming our assumptions of a mainstream Bollywood thriller.

The film starts off with a flashy car spill involving Siddharth Malhotra (Vikram Sethi) in a crowded Mumbai street on (what then becomes) a rainy night. Malhotra is introduced to us as the famous-novelist-in-distress (who could think he’d play the same role, twice over, after Kapoor And Sons?). As he tries escaping from the police with a near-blank expression on his face, all my hopes from the film also went out of the window. Moreover, Ittefaq’s potential fate as yet another stylishly empty film, desperate to be a whodunit, becomes irrefutable when we see Sonakshi Sinha (Maya) stop a police van on screen next.

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But as it turns out, Ittefaq, helmed by debutante Abhay Chopra, is not that kind of a film.

What it is instead, is a clever thriller that reveals itself deliciously without shortchanging the intellect of the audience. It stays away from being self-indulgent, refusing to dress up its plot with unnecessary detours and meanderings, and is mindful of every moment of its 107-minute runtime. Instead, it stays true to its core of an engaging whodunit by accentuating its “He said, She said” form — and allows the cynical cop Dev Verma, a top-form Akshaye Khanna, guide us to the truth of the double murders.

Ittefaq

Ittefaq is a clever thriller that reveals itself deliciously without shortchanging the intellect of the audience.
Image credit: Red Chillies Entertainment / Dharma Productions / B R Studios

Like its source material, from which it broadly borrows the basic premise, the modern-day Ittefaq is also songless. Most of it plays out in flashbacks inside dimly lit closed spaces: A luxurious apartment, a five-star hotel, and the Colaba police station. Despite the lack of visually arresting locales, and the judiciously spattered subdued colour tones of the film, its effective cinematography guarantees that it’s impossible to look away from the screen.

Most thrillers, in a bid to appear sleek, tend to exploit stylish shots as decorative props, even when they are at odds with the plot, like in Talaash, where the film’s moody atmosphere at times slowed down what it sets out to achieve. To Ittefaq’s credit, its sleekness is not a mere extra: It is as much a contributor to the film’s proceedings as its three leads. Also, unlike other mainstream thrillers, Ittefaq resists the temptation to skew toward overboiled plots in a bid to appear intelligent. Remember the climax of Ugly, where Rahul (Rahul Bhat) kills Chaitanya (Vineet Kumar Singh) once it becomes apparent he is unaware of his daughter’s whereabouts? Completely unnecessary. This is where Ittefaq deviates from the mean.

The film’s plot is fairly standard, playing out over a span of three days. On the run after being accused of killing his wife, Vikram Sethi stumbles into Maya’s apartment asking for help, only to get embroiled in the second crime scene of the night. Her husband gets killed and Vikram is arrested for the crime. When interrogated, both Vikram and Maya’s versions are at odds with each other’s, almost designed to establish the other’s guilt.

Ittefaq

In Ittefaq, a top-form Akshaye Khanna plays cynical cop Dev Verma, who guides us to the truth of the double murders.
Image credit: Red Chillies Entertainment / Dharma Productions / B R Studios

From then on, information is fed to us in systematic flashbacks, and even though it takes a while for us to process the contrasting accounts, the film feels neither hurried, nor boring. Which brings to the fore the real hero of a good thriller: the execution. Ittefaq gains hugely from its near-perfect unwrapping leading up to a commendable climax that keeps you guessing until the very end.

In some ways, Ittefaq tries to carry forward what Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani did for the genre a few years ago. It replaced abused tropes with realistic characters, minimal dramatisation, and a high-functioning sociopathic murderer who defeats the system. Over the years, what we had by way of a mainstream Bollywood thriller was caricatures, like Abbas Mustan’s Humraaz and Ajnabee where the plot-twist comes from characters magically guessing a password of a secret account (Everything is planned #NeverForget) after delivering a line that goes, “Akalmand aadmi dusron ko bewakoof samajhta hai,” and run away with a bounty of millions of dollars.

But, perhaps Ittefaq’s greatest contribution to the mainstream thriller genre is that it ends up not looking like a film produced by Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. One can only wonder about the number of item songs and chiffon sarees that might have been waiting in the wings, looking for a chance to be on screen. Instead, Ittefaq gives us a notoriously cool Akshaye Khanna and a mainstream mystery thriller that’s worthy enough to be added to Bollywood’s Hall Of Fame. Let’s hope it’s not an Ittefaq.

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