Very few filmmakers have actually cracked the spy thriller genre in India. Despite the political context and our long history of tension with our neighbours. The good news is that Nikhil Advani’s D-Day gets most things right, identifies the right villains and channels this tension to make a reasonably riveting film out of it.
The reason D-Day works is because, like A Wednesday or Inglourious Basterds, it plays out our fantasy of revenge through violence that is cathartic. Remember how you hated the men responsible for serial blasts in India and wished horrible things would happen to them? Then, you would find D-Day as an outlet for all your repressed feelings of violence. It’s cinema as wish-fulfilment, no matter how irrational and emotional your feelings are.
With a plot that is inspired by Zero Dark Thirty, or the true story of how the US decided to take Osama Bin Laden from foreign soil, D-Day is about bringing back a Dawood-like don (Rishi Kapoor’s Iqbal Seth a.k.a Goldman is styled on the rare photos of Dawood available) solely responsible for all serial blasts in India.
Yes, the film is naive enough to believe that all serial blasts in India are the handiwork of one man. And that taking out that one man will put an end to terrorism.
If you are willing to overlook these Bollywood reductions and the inherent populism that drives our mainstream cinema, then there is a lot you will like about D-Day.
The performances, to begin with. Irrfan once again delivers solid as the field agent who has to risk his family and gives Indian intelligence a very human face. Arjun Rampal’s limited range of expressions is exploited really well to make him a man of mystery and the sadness in his eyes and voice modulation see him through and he manages to hold his own. Rishi Kapoor as Goldman is pure gold, it’s a delight to watch him chew scenery and he knocks his last lines in the film out of the park. It's so good to see Bollywood finally use the incredibly nuanced Nasser, who gets some really good lines to play with.
And the three ladies surprise as well.
Huma Qureshi handles her action heroine role with a no-nonsense attitude and is a perfectly grounded foil to her volatile team. Shruti Haasan lets her eyes convey the vulnerability required of her role and it’s always a good sign when a young actor is willing to sport an ugly scar on her face. Newcomer Shrisvara who plays Irrfan’s wife makes an impressive debut too.
The narrative is just the perfect excuse for this ensemble to turn in compelling performances in the thick of action and even the songs seem well placed to slow down and build momentum for the tense scenes.
The ending, however, is a bit of a mess.
Characters kill and die for no reason and even challenge the core idea of the film: bringing the most wanted man back alive because death would make him a martyr.
D-Day sends out a strong statement. The problem is that it is emotional. And modern India is not that naive.
Director: Nikhil Advani
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan, Arjun Rampal, Huma Qureshi, Shruti Haasan
Storyline: A team of four intelligence officers is sent to Pakistan to bring India’s most wanted man back
Bottomline: A gripping, racy, well-paced thriller that is populist, reductionist and politically naive