Director: Abhay Chopra
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Akshaye Khanna, Sonakshi Sinha
Ittefaq is the crisp, amoral, intriguing but implausible reworking of Yash Chopra’s 1969 film. The original is an over-dramatic but poignant portrait of two flawed individuals who make a tenuous connection over one night. The man, accused of murder, is actually innocent. The woman, ostensibly an innocent victim, is actually a murderess. At one point, the two have a drink together. There is a moment of laughter and respite from the storm outside – both literal and metaphorical.
But debutant director Abhay Chopra isn’t interested in telling us this story, which incidentally has worked through the decades and across languages – the 1969 Ittefaq was inspired by the Gujarati play Dhoomas, which was based on an English play called Signpost to Murder, which was also made into a Hollywood film in 1965.
Instead Abhay and co-writers Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Mehrotra merely use this source material as a springboard to create a police procedural. Most of the action takes place at the Colaba Police Station and the real protagonist of the film is an investigating officer – Dev, played by Akshaye Khanna. This is a wise decision. Dev is the best etched character in the film – he’s skeptical and tough but also humane and genuinely funny. At one point, you see him flipping through a magazine on the pot. In another scene, when the prime accused Vikram Sethi, is shedding tears, Dev moves the plate of food sitting between them saying, sambhar mein girega. I think there might be potential for a broody Mumbai crime franchise here with the acerbic Dev saving the city. Akshaye has just the right mix of acting chops and eccentricity to pull it off.
Sidharth Malhotra is Vikram, a dashing, famous book author from the UK. I love Bollywood’s idea of the publishing business – authors are almost always affluent, jet-setting celebrities. Having written a few books myself, I know how different the reality is but we buy into this alluring fantasy. Besides it provides the opportunity for a killer line – when Dev asks his junior if he reads, pat comes the reply from another cop – yeh sirf Chetan ke Bhagat hain.
Abhay makes an assured debut but he has far more at his disposal than Yash Chopra did – the story has been enlarged to include more characters and locations. So you never get the sense of claustrophobia or intimacy that the original Ittefaq created. Instead an imposed timeline – Vikram must be charged within 3 days otherwise he will return to the UK – creates a sense of urgency. The story is narrated Rashomon-like from different points of view. And through the first half, it’s genuinely gripping.
The second half loses some of this steam. The peripheral plot points don’t fit organically and the climactic twist is too far-fetched. I also wish Sonakshi Sinha had more to work with. Maya has little of the vulnerability or complexity that Nanda’s character Rekha had in the original. She is flatly written and fairly forgettable. Sidharth does better – especially in a scene in which Vikram breaks down in the lock-up.
The best thrillers are those that can stand up to scrutiny. In these films, when you go back, post-reveal, and question what you saw, the premise still holds. Ittefaq doesn’t manage that. But it has enough verve and smarts to keep you hooked.