Writer, Director: Aban Bharucha Deohans
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Mathur, Prachi Desai, Sahil Vaid
Editor: Sandeep Kumar Sethy
Cinematographer: Arvind Singh
Producer: Kiran Deohans
In the first scene of Silence … Can You Hear It?, we see Pooja’s dead body on a hiking trail. Within a few scenes we have a murder suspect— the MLA Ravi Khanna (Arjun Mathur), the husband of Pooja’s best friend; Pooja’s best friend is in a coma. The two-hour film, for the most part, follows up on this suspicion, without giving us any other suspect to pin our gaze on. From the question “Who killed Pooja?” the movie pivots to “Did Ravi kill Pooja or not?”.
It’s the first failure of the movie, because it doesn’t give us an alternative, to keep us guessing. If Ravi did, in fact, commit the murder, we had it coming from the very beginning — a stale investigative drama. If Ravi did not, then we know that the culprit will blindside us in some climatic production of evidence, and so there’s no need for guesswork on our part— the Abbas-Mustan treatment.
Part of the joy of watching investigative dramas is to either swivel and meander with the twisty narrative, submitting to its zig-zag logic, or to see it play so close to the evidence that our guesswork is part of the fun. Here it’s neither. The long stretches of the first hour and a half is entirely fixated on Ravi Khanna being the murderer — his steely glare behind the glasses, his clean kurta and jeans that is as much a facade as personality, his shrug-of-the-shoulder attitude that can morph into violent denial. It tirely easily, with run-of-the-mill chases and shootouts. Mathur’s performance does little to evoke a character out of this cardboard cut-out.
There is no tension, because nothing feels at stake. There’s nothing intelligent about the chase either because for the most part the person investigating it, ACP Avinash Verma (Manoj Bajpayee), and his coterie of officers, are rather slow on the uptake. What, to me, felt obvious initially, they unearthed in the witching hour.
Avinash Verma plays a dull, less domestic version of Bajpayee’s role in The Family Man as the spy Srikant Tiwari. Here, however his domestic life is flattened into dialogues — his wife left him and remarried years ago, his daughter is studying architecture in London, sending him T-shirts like “Vegetarian” with a weed leaf, “Coffee is a hug in a cup”, and “God is an atheist”, a quirk that is at once annoying as it is obvious, and his mother keeps calling him on the phone asking if he has eaten. It’s the sort of check-box world-building that mistakes adjectives for depth, using framed photographs lying around as narrative props; the fact that he loves coffee over tea becomes crucial in trying to put a finger on who he really is.
The one thing the film puts all its stale steam in, is in trying to flesh out Verma’s relationship vis-a-vis justice. He’s a bit of renegade, who works on intuition, whose “version of justice isn’t jaded” because he’s clear about certain things — if you are evil, you must be killed. He doesn’t seem to have much faith in the prison industrial complex. But he isn’t brittle, nor is he brutish. He is mercurial, and has three outbursts of anger, but it’s so synthetic, even Bajpayee’s convincing flares are not able to give the character heft; you see Bajpayee acting out anger, as opposed to seeing Verma feeling angry. This is mostly because, as mentioned, there is no tension in the plot, and nothing feels at stake, and no story thread is pushed to that point of explosion where anger feels and looks justified.
Prachi Desai plays Sanjana Bhatia, one of Verma’s team members. There is a hint of sexual tension that the plot concocts between the two — writing in scenes where they are forced to be alone in rooms — but it’s mostly paternal in execution. There is little feeling that goes beyond the excesses expressed — Verma’s anger, Verma’s superior’s anger, Khanna’s anger, Pooja’s father’s anger, and not to forget, my own anger, to sit through a banal plotting that doesn’t even try to flirt with brilliance, forget becoming it.