(At PVR Saket and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

Ramzan is here. That time of the year when our Bollywood bigwigs stay clear of the box office, leaving the field wide open for the also-rans to strut their stuff. Hoping to cash in on the lull this week is young Neil Nitin Mukesh, yet another star son. Scion of popular singer Nitin Mukesh and grandson of the legendary Mukesh, he is a star son with a difference, as he proves here with a performance that leaves the audiences in two minds. He is an interesting mix of vulnerability and meanness, which leaves the cinemagoers wondering if he is the hero or the villain of Sriram Raghavan’s film “Johnny Gaddaar”.

That, as it turns out, is his biggest strength. You never know where you stand with him. Or is he revealing more than he is concealing?

One moment he is an innocent chap, a tender romantic guy. Next moment he has that ruthless streak that does not prevent him from spilling blood. All perfectly fine attributes to have in a story that is a smart con game involving five men and lots of moolah.

Raghavan, who covered himself with some credit in his debut film “Ek Hasina Thi”, however, does himself few favours here now. He borrows heavily from Dev Anand’s “Johnny Mera Naam”, then packs in music that even he would struggle to tap his toes to: hey Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy, what’s gone wrong?

Where Raghavan does score is in the packaging and pace department. Here he presents five heroes, four of whom are no prisoners of image, and the fifth – the good old Dharmendra – is trying to re-invent himself. We have Zakir Husain, who has done character roles of too many shades to fall into a stereotype; we have Vinay Pathak fresh from “Bheja Fry” but still new enough to be like water, taking the shape of the vessel he chooses as his abode. We have Daya Shetty too. In short, a cast that lends itself perfectly to a con game where the focus has to be on the pace, the punch in the storylines, leaving few opportunities for the usual ego massage of mega stars.

The film starts off breezily enough with Dharmendra getting his cohorts to shell out some fifty lakh rupees each, of course with the promise that it would come back in multiple folds soon. But that is not to be as money changes people as often as it changes hands. So one guy gets greedy and thinks of walking away with all the cash. And all the others are not exactly saints.

So who is it who would even stoop to murder for cash? That is a nice little query which holds the audience interest almost up to the end. Along the way, Raghavan botches it up at a couple of places. With one character signing himself as Johnny G in a hotel, there is a big clue for the audiences. And the extra-marital bit between Neil and Rimi Sen seems as desirable as a melted ice cream. To accommodate all the lovey-dovey bits the pace needed for a thriller gets affected. And we get many moments when the film seems to stand still, the characters ostensibly in pause mode.

The inadvertent laughs are provided by Dharmendra with his laboured English: whose idea was it really to lace his dialogue with so much English?

However, if you choose to ignore these glitches, the film passes muster, though just about. And Neil’s performance tells us that he might succeed where his much talked about grandpa – yes, Mukesh had entered the industry with stars in his eyes – failed: this boy has a good screen presence, a malleable body language and a face that can lend itself to many shades of story-telling.

In these lean times, watch “Johnny Gaddaar” because life does not always offer too many choices to the famished.


(At Spice PVR, Saket and other theatres)

How many times have our filmmakers taken us to a university campus where romance seems always in the air? In the canteen, and in the classroom too? And when there is a break from romance, there is always a university election, a round of politics. Debutant director Manish Tiwary here now plays it safe. He takes the tried and tested principles from other campus films but jazzes them up with a more contemporary presentation.

Result? A film that throbs with energy, a storyline that is identifiable, and a set of youngsters who actually look young, not just another 40-ish Khan trying to look half his age.

On the face of it, Tiwary’s film is about campus politics and romance. But he goes beyond this to highlight the contradictions in the minds of the young and the keen, urban dude who inhabits the same space as the guy from the hinterland.

He has Shreyas Talpade as a contender for university president-ship. A budding politician, he has his middle class moorings in place. Some values, some hypocrisy. He wants a nice girl for a wife; she can model too, but no swimsuits on the ramp!

Then there is Imaad, the average guy next door, who wants to say three little words to every girl he comes across. But does it mean that this innocent-faced guy has no value system in place?

Where Tiwary scores is in desisting from handing out sermons. He passes no value judgments and keeps the human drama under a tight leash too.

So is “Dil Dosti Etc” the film of the week? Well, no. Simply because it does not have enough momentum. And there is a lack of punch in the story-telling.

The positives? Young Imaad, of course. He is the life and soul of the film. Son of Naseeruddin Shah, he is probably as good as his dad was at this age many summers ago. Imaad has a goofy look that goes well with his character, and wins a few points with his voice modulation.

The spark of his work reaches his eyes, and the subtleties linger long after the spoken word.