Moh Maya Money Review: The Making of a Headline

Director Munish Bhardwaj crafts a deceptively dark film about a corrupt real estate agent

Director: Munish Bhardwaj

Cast: Ranvir Shorey, Neha Dhupia, Vidushi Mehra

Rating: 3 stars

Don’t let the title fool you. Moh Maya Money is not some strange, half-baked, opportunistic B-movie about fake money and real estate scams. This is a deceptively dark film – an uncomfortably intimate portrait of the kind of simmering Indian middle-class mentality that often explodes onto the gory front pages of national newspapers.

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This story of a compulsively corrupt real estate agent (Ranvir Shorey, as Aman) and his media-producer wife (Neha Dhupia, as Divya) may sound vaguely familiar. Yet, it isn’t based on real events. It starts off harmlessly enough, with a regular working couple in Delhi going about their ladder-climbing life. The slippery slope begins when Aman, a habitual hustler, is fired by his company in between one of his many under-the-table deals, leaving him with a mountain of debt to some very dangerous clients.

This is a deceptively dark film – an uncomfortably intimate portrait of the kind of simmering Indian middle-class mentality that often explodes onto the gory front pages of national newspapers.

As things unfold, one senses the aura of a sensational case destined to “shock the nation” – the kind that goes through the entire trial-by-media rigmarole, where sordid skeletons tumble out of gold closets, before everyone develops an expert opinion about its conspiracies, only for it to finally be adapted into a sleaze-and-betrayal film by some greedy producer.

The title, I’d assume, would be of the Moh Maya Money variety, with an item song involving a scantily clad starlet bathing in banned Rs. 500 notes.

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Munish Bhardwaj’s film is, thankfully, nothing of the sort. None of its faces are likeable or worth empathizing with, yet there’s such a desperate everyday-ness about them that their predicament becomes a viewer’s worst-case voyeuristic exercise.

As is the case with any good thriller, the narrative – which is designed to make the suspenseful “what” worth knowing – thrives on the “why” even more. Why are the two so unhealthily bound to each other despite leading separate lives? Why does Aman harbour dreams of a life he has only come across in magazines and movies? Why are they fighting for individual futures together?

The title, I’d assume, would be of the Moh Maya Money variety, with an item song involving a scantily clad starlet bathing in banned Rs. 500 notes. Munish Bhardwaj’s film is, thankfully, nothing of the sort

The writers understand that these questions are answers on their own. That we end up sifting through their wreckage even as they’re falling off a cliff is down to the filmmaker’s sound language of storytelling. Even though the math of the timeline doesn’t quite add up (perils of being a Statistics graduate-turned-writer), the technique of parallel perspectives lends the relationship an ominous tone.

Even though one wrong leads to another, each one more grievous than the next, none of what Aman does can be construed as a ‘mistake’.

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Shorey, one of Indian cinema’s finest artistic purveyors of patriarchal angst, acts Aman out as a morally bankrupt soul unable to identify his own mental instability. At one point, on seeing Divya right after her car knocks down a jaywalker, his order of concern doesn’t surprise her: “Did he ask for money? Is the car fine?” Not once does he take into account his wife’s ability to run the household either – the kind of husband who does things for her, instead of with her.

Shorey, one of Indian cinema’s finest artistic purveyors of patriarchal angst, acts Aman out as a morally bankrupt soul unable to identify his own mental instability.

He isn’t evil per se, but you end up shaking your head sadly at his blatantly transparent attempts to cover his misgivings. The last character to ignite such an awkward cocktail of pity and repulsion was pathological liar Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, in The Informant!). But Aman is more unhinged, given the inherent drama of the genre he occupies.

And none of what Divya decides to do is incidental either. Perhaps her newsroom experiences have desensitized her to a point where she’s unable to distinguish between bad and worse. Because of the way we’re parachuted into this life-cycle of this young couple, which is already well into its sexless phase, each of the peripheral faces – a shady gangster, Divya’s media colleagues and boss – lends the film adequate context. The more things spiral out of control, the more the writers reveal, and the more difficult it becomes to fathom the frailties of human nature.

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Bhardwaj, who comes from Rajat Kapoor’s school of stage-rooted, textural storytelling, does this legacy fair justice with his first film. One notices the telltale signs – Mani Kaul posters in a filmmaker’s house, unobtrusive camerawork, unremarkable characters in remarkable situations and undercurrents of ethical contradictions.

Bhardwaj, who comes from Rajat Kapoor’s school of stage-rooted, textural storytelling, does this legacy fair justice with his first film.

Moh Maya Money is as much an exploration of private decay as it is a critique of public disillusionment. It is well performed, refrains from over-decorating its plot (no pulpy soundtracks or 70s homages) and leaves us with a temper worth pondering about. I look forward to this director’s evolution within the new medium.

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