Director Sriram Raghavan
Cast Neil Nitin Mukesh, Dharmendra, Vinay Pathak, Rimii Sen Storyline A con betrays his gang during a two-and-a-half crore deal
Bottomline A slick, riveting, intelligent game of cards
Finally, someone has demonstrated the difference between tribute and plagiarism. Johnny Gaddaar though derivative of many schools of filmmaking across genres and sensibilities (right from James Hadley Chase to the Coen Brothers to Vijay Anand to Steven Soderberg), still comes out trumps in a delightfully original rollercoaster of a mind game that keeps you guessing till the last minute.
If you just read it, it would seem like a Hadley Chase novel. Once you meet the realistically fleshed out characters double-crossed by the absurdities of fate, they would seem straight out of a Coen Brothers film. If you just listened to the music, it would sound like a free-flowing fusion between R.D. Burman and the jazzy sophisticated score from Danny Ocean’s franchise. If you paid attention to the way it is shot and edited, you will spot half a dozen influences ranging from Guy Ritchie to Tarantino to Ketan Anand. And yet, all these inspired parts fall perfectly in place for an gripping game of cards, with Raghavan winning every round except maybe one (almost everyone in the audience can spot a dream-sequence when they see it), the master stroke being the not-so-Blood Simple finale.
Not that this film completely belongs to the crafty technician. It’s been a really long time since we’ve seen a film where actors have completely surrendered to the characters they are playing. Dharmendra breathes some heavy-duty drama into the proceedings with his restrained body language and the angst-filled voice modulation (the usual “kuttey kamine” updated to “son of a beach”). Your heart goes out to this fine actor. And there’s the ever-reliable Vinay Pathak playing an endearing gambler with his cheeky punch-lines and flawless timing. Watch out for the scene where he convinces his wife to mortgage her beauty parlour as she watches Amitabh Bachchan in Parwana (one of the biggest sources of inspiration for the film’s plot and protagonist). From the story-telling point of view, this scene is an ace.
Zakir Hussain is a revelation. Be it displaying frustration or anger or just lecherously leering at women, the man’s a natural employing his flair for comedy to lighten up proceedings. The Gaddaar, Neil Nitin Mukesh is the find of the year as he walks through his graph from the innocent, helpless, remorseful con to pure cold-blooded evil. No, this is not a suspense film in the classical sense. Right from the first act, you know he’s the traitor but it’s not about the ‘what’ or ‘who’.
Johnny Gaddaar is all about how things unfold and that’s the mind-game the director plays with the audience. Putting you into the shoes of the traitor, Sriram takes you through a reckless, dangerous dark path full of surprises at every corner. There are a few speed-breakers, like the mandatory build-up song before the finale (a staple of the Hindi cinema of the seventies) but as long as it all stays true to the spirit of the homage intended, it’s all good. This fan boy celebration of films is pure delight for movie buffs. Take a bow, Raghavan. Double thumbs up. Five on five stars. A crash course on the huge difference between tribute and plagiarism.