Director: Vishal Furia
Writers: Adhir Bhatt, Ajit Jagtap, Vishal Kapoor
Cast: Vikrant Massey, Radhika Apte, Prachi Desai, Rohit Roy, Anant Mahadevan
Cinematographer: Anshul Chobey
Editor: Abhijeet Deshpande
Streaming on: ZEE5
I admire films that go beyond the brief in terms of source material. They bring to mind a famous Roger Ebert quote: Those who think a script must be 'faithful' seem to treat adaptation like marriage; adaptation can also mean improvement. But as it turns out, there is also such a thing as too much adaptation. So much that the original is forgotten and the new one becomes its own deformed four-headed beast. There are scene-to-scene remakes, there are cultural translations – and then there is Forensic. Vishal Furia's psychological thriller is a loose, tacky and reckless adaptation of the Malayalam-language Tovino Thomas-starring 2020 hit. The Hindi-language Forensic is the sort of whodunnit that's so busy trying to outwit the audience, the original film and the audience who watched the original film that it eventually outwits itself – twice over.
The result is a climax so singularly absurd that I had to rub my eyes and retreat to bed for a few minutes. I'm all for campy B-movie revelations, but there is a limit to so-bad-it's-good storytelling. In its pursuit of a distinct identity, Forensic descends into farcical Scooby-Doo Where Are You! territory – CID and F.I.R. look authentic in comparison – without even intending to. I'm still in bed as I write this review.
Forensic revolves around a star forensic expert named Johnny Khanna (Vikrant Massey), who is summoned to misty Mussorrie to team up with his ex-girlfriend cop Megha Sharma (Radhika Apte), when a spate of murders rocks the mountain town. A shadowy serial killer is on the loose, preying only on little girls celebrating their birthdays. Clearly, this psychopath is no fan of cake. The exes have their own troubled history: Megha's sister was married to Johnny's brother, and a tragedy meant that Megha has sole custody of her young niece, Anya. The cast is full of suspects who're one cheesy backstory away from a '90s-Bollywood motive: Johnny's grieving brother Abhay (Rohit Roy), Johnny himself (he is introduced dancing into a crime site and mimicking the "Johny Johny" nursery rhyme), a pretty child psychologist (Prachi Desai), the psychologist's cancer-stricken father figure (Anant Mahadevan), Megha herself (she's always annoyed), a cocky rival cop, and a wild 11-year-old juvenile convict who speaks in grunts. I was waiting for a writer to be introduced as an introvert from a broken family who hates (birthday) parties, but that writer never came.
The screenplay spends the first hour nudging us in the direction of the killer being a child. Yet, the narrative unnecessarily stretches the smokescreen; we even see Megha chasing and arresting a dwarf, who works as a janitor at one of the murder sites. The film has so many red herrings that its very existence becomes a red herring. It begins with a flashback of the killer as a child, drowning a cat and making twisty faces. This is immediately followed by an intro shot of eccentric forensic superstar Johnny Khanna – Massey is good at many things, including hamming – presumably to misdirect the viewer. He speaks in a singsong voice, does a Sherlock at crime scenes and generally just tries very hard to look like a guy who goes around mauling cakes.
Like any self-respecting thriller that cracks the case at the interval mark, Forensic spends the next hour debunking its own design and revealing the actual killer. There is logic in neither, but the real problem lies in the treatment and execution. I should have sensed something was wrong when one of the opening shots shows a child being caned by a plank of wood – and the kid doesn't flinch. The body does not move forward or backward; the adult beating up the kid is visibly hitting the air. These are small technical details that sink a viewer's impression of a film before it begins.
Then there are basic rhythm problems. Megha nabs a suspect in an intense chase; the next scene shows her calmly sitting with her niece's psychologist and speaking of the little girl's family trauma; the next scene shows her back at the police station, aggressively grilling the suspect. It doesn't help that Radhika Apte delivers a two-note performance – Megha is either flaring her nostrils or screaming at people, sometimes both at once. There is one fleeting shot that demonstrates what the actress is capable of: Johnny is showing her around a crime site, she's holding his notepad, and when he asks for it, she momentarily assumes he's asking for her hand. The way she hesitates reveals the Radhika Apte who, not too long ago, was a bondafide OTT all-star.
So much of the film flaunts a '90s TV aesthetic, too, where the action-reaction cycle is instant. For instance, when news channels declare that there is a child killer on the loose, we immediately see a shot of parents herding their children out of a crowded park – did they all find out together? Was there a loudspeaker? Is there no smarter way to depict fear and paranoia in a small town? It's still better than the shot of a kid being turned away from the locked school gates by a security guard. In a car chase, speed is depicted by messing with the frame rates rather than actual choreography. At one point in the second half, a dance track – that sounds eerily like a rejected 'item song' – scores a sad montage of the couple being suspended from the case and the cops looking for a new suspect. The dissonance would have been startling in a better film, but in Forensic, everything goes. Including my sanity.
Which reminds me, I just had a flashback about the twist at the end again. Having been an M. Night Shyamalan fan through thick and thin, I've seen my fair share of terrible twists over the years. But the one in Forensic is so mind-bendingly surreal that even a drama teacher in primary school might have punished a student for daring to conceive it. I know I sound like I'm hyping it up now, and one might just watch it out of perverse curiosity. (Pro tip: Do not look away in disbelief). It really does…take the cake. And if there's one thing that Forensic teaches us, it's that cake is injurious to health.