Director: Ajay Singh
Writers: Siraj Ahmed, Amar Kaushik
Cast: Yami Gautam Dhar, Sunny Kaushal, Barun Chanda, Indraneil Sengupta
One of the first things that Neha (Yami Gautam Dhar) tells Ankit (Sunny Kaushal) is, “Stalking is a crime.” What could possibly go wrong with this relationship? Go ahead, draw up a list and then reward yourself when they happen one by one in Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga. There’s your weekend drinking game for you. You’re welcome.
At the heart of Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga is the premise that the dating scene is so abysmal for straight women in India that one will ignore all the red flags a man is waving simply because he’s coming across as only creepy (as opposed to downright awful). Neha is a flight attendant and during one of her flights, she meets business class passenger, Ankit. He’s reading a novel titled “The Jackal Has Landed” (wink wink nudge nudge), has a beard that suggests he’s a Virat Kohli fan, and claims he’s ordered a vegan meal even though records show otherwise. Fortunately, Neha is a vegan so she can serve him her meal. If you thought “What a coinkydink”, fasten your seatbelts. There are two things that abound in Chor Nikal ke Bhaga — twists and coincidences. Unfortunately for writers Siraj Ahmed and Amar Kaushik, the preponderance of the latter makes the former lose its charm.
To its credit, the film does have a plot and without making it obvious, Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga points out how certain biases have been normalised in recent years. For instance, among the film’s opening shots is one that shows a man performing namaaz. When that man is later seen at an airport, exchanging shifty glances with three bearded men, most audiences will be primed for the hijack scene that follows. They may be less prepared for what’s revealed later. While Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga does its rounds of being first a heist, then a hijack and finally a whodunit, there are a few genuinely tense and engaging moments. In one scene, the opening strains of “Ek Doosre Se Karte Hai Pyar Hum” are used to great comic effect. In another, a character declares “The hijack is over!” only to follow it up with “There’s a bomb on the plane!” It’s deadpan humour at its deadpannest.
Sadly, good bits like these are few and far between. For most part, Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga is lacklustre. It’s not awful, but neither is it compelling. Neither Dhar nor Kaushal are able to imbue their characters with any sense of personality. Some of this has to do with the writing, which doesn’t take the time to explore potentially complex characters like Neha or even leave hints to intriguing questions like why the hijackers demand the release of someone who is known for being anti-terrorism. The film hints at a backstory for Neha but doesn’t weave it into the storytelling. Instead, she’s given a clichéd emotional hook so that Dhar can do a crying scene with all the feels of doing homework for an Acting 101 course. To say any more would be to give away spoilers so let’s just say that the twist in Neha’s tale feels more convenient than convincing. Kaushal’s character is predictably etched and his performance lacks the menace and nervous energy needed to make Ankit feel charismatic. Better acting performances could have made both Neha and Ankit a lot more interesting than they end up being in Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga.
Heists and capers have been a long standing favourite in popular cinema because of the sense of satisfaction that comes from being given a puzzle, clues and the answer (in that order). They also offer an audience the vicarious pleasure of watching someone outwit a system that’s designed to prevent them from achieving their end. The promise of being rich seems like the end goal, but that’s actually a distraction. Most of the time, there’s something deeper, more elemental and often more idealistic at play. For instance, at the heart of The Duke (2020) — a delightful caper starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, in which a pensioner steals a painting from the National Gallery in London as an act of protest — is a message about caring for the elderly and building a community. The impossibly stylish Ocean’s series, led by George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is mostly about friendship and love. Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga dithers when it comes to what is at the heart of its story. Is it a tale of revenge, or the story of someone who loves the world of crime — the sense of fraternity, the adrenaline rush of beating the system, the opportunity to do right by those who are treated unfairly — because of what it enables them to do?
Had the film played up its comic and absurd elements, as classic capers do, it may have worked better. However, Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga takes itself seriously and tries to cover up how deeply steeped it is in silliness by adding a few weepy moments and a Home Minister who is definitely not modelled on reality since he gives press conferences. Ultimately, the writers give answers to most questions raised in the story with the diligence of a class topper at an exam for her best subject. Unfortunately, there’s a theme running through the answers. They’re all coincidences — like the absence of extra meals in business class; or where a randomly-tossed phone lands; or a man’s decision to have sex with his secret lover right next to a window looking on to a busy street. There’s a certain amount of coincidence and absurdity that an audience will allow if they’re charmed by the characters. With its best actors in minor roles that get little screen time, Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga doesn’t have that advantage.