Murder Mubarak Review: Social Satire Masquerading as High-Society Whodunit

Starring Pankaj Tripathi, Sara Ali Khan and Vijay Varma, the film is streaming on Netflix
Murder Mubarak Review: Social Satire Masquerading as High-Society Whodunit
Murder Mubarak Review: Social Satire Masquerading as High-Society Whodunit

Director: Homi Adajania
Writers: Gazal Dhaliwal, Suprotim Sengupta
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Sara Ali Khan, Vijay Varma, Karisma Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Tisca Chopra, Sanjay Kapoor, Suhail Nayyar, Deven Bhojani, Ashim Gulati

Duration: 143 mins

Streaming on: Netflix

Based on author Anuja Chauhan’s 2021 book Club You To Death, Murder Mubarak marks director Homi Adajania’s (relative) return to form after a decade. Adapted by Gazal Dhaliwal and Suprotim Sengupta, it seems to be right down Adajania’s graffiti-blasted ally: Part-White Lotus and part-Knives Out, the film is a snide social satire masquerading as a high-society whodunit. At 143 minutes, it’s a bit long and meandering, but the indulgent world-building is part of the payoff. A hunky zumba trainer, Leo Mathews (Ashim Gulati), is found dead – choked by barbells during his morning workout – at the exclusive Royal Delhi Club. CCTV footage suggests it was no accident. Assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Bhavani Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) reaches the scene, immediately tickled by the club’s liberal elitism. One by one, he investigates their closet skeletons, blind spots and hypocrisies. It’s all muddled and loose, but the plot is never too far from a few class-rage truths. 

Meet the Members 

The character-cum-suspects are all “sample pieces”: Miserly aristocrat Rannvijay Singh (Sanjay Kapoor), gossipy Lutyens’ homemaker Roshni Batra (Tisca Chopra), her bratty drug-addicted son Yash (Suhail Nayyar), enigmatic middle-aged superstar Shehnaz Noorani (Karisma Kapoor), and sex-crazed socialite Cookie Katoch (Dimple Kapadia). There’s also ‘commie’ lawyer Akash Dogra (Vijay Varma), who is taunted by his Punjabi parents for “turning leftist” after dating a Bengali girl. And most conspicuous is Bambi Todi (Sara Ali Khan), an entitled kleptomaniac-widow who gets invested in this case as if it were the latest Netflix true-crime series. 

The club elections are coming, and tensions run high. As per template, the victim wasn’t exactly a saint. Each of the wealthy nutters had a reason to eliminate lusty Leo, a hustler who knew their secrets and blackmailed them into donating to his orphanage. On the other side of the social ladder lies the club staff: A dementia-addled caretaker (Brijendra Kala), a troubled hairdresser (Tara Alisha Berry), a traumatized waitress (Amaara Sangam), and trainers from Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh called ‘twins’ by their casually racist clients. There’s also a lethargic cat called Prince Harry, who carries on the club tradition of animals being named (and perhaps fated) after members of the British royal family. If the film had waited more, a missing fish named Princess Middleton might’ve made a fetching cameo. 

Murder Mubarak on Netflix
Murder Mubarak on Netflix

Silver Spoon and Brass Tacks

Murder Mubarak revels in kooky upper-class dramedy. The older cast members, in particular, serve their eat-the-rich renditions. Sanjay Kapoor, Karisma Kapoor, Deven Bhojani (as the snooty club president inconvenienced enough to remark “murder isn’t allowed on such premises” – as if death were part of the club’s no-entry list), and Tisca Chopra have a ball with their South-Delhi-skit personas. The narrative quirks – which were absent from Adajania’s last few titles like Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo and Angrezi Medium – work in this idiosyncratic environment. Like the film opening with chaos at a Tambola Party, a red herring that sets the stage for a muted and more ‘working-class’ murder next morning. Or flashback-characters pausing and getting impatient while they’re being narrated badly by witnesses. Or a mention of November rain (a clue for pop-culture nerds) promptly followed by a member going: “Oh no, the poor farmers!” Or beetroot juice becoming a precursor to blood on (manicured) hands. Or even ‘Awaara Hoon’ being a blackmail song – a nod to the class-cutting popularity of the Raj Kapoor classic. At one point, we see Bambi excitedly discussing the case with Akash while eating chaat, and the scene ends with a silver spoon (literally) in her mouth. At another, ACP Singh walks through a lawn full of worried members and senses their eyes following him. He allows himself a smirk, visibly enjoying this brief shift of power and authority.

Given the already-excessive tone of the North Indian club culture, Murder Mubarak employs a needless barrage of music and cartoonish sound effects. The actors do their job, but the craft is intent on teaching us the difference between slapstick and sardonic. It used to be my pet peeve, but that pet has now escaped into the wilderness and become a feral peeve. Given the protracted running time, a lot of the whimsy loses steam midway through the film. Pankaj Tripathi plays a version of himself as the wry cop, a role that feels so comfortable that it’s almost repetitive. It has shades of the recent Kadak Singh, especially because the detective again ends the film by gathering all the suspects at one location to single out the criminal. Tripathi shines when his character listens and reacts – because Singh is trying his best to stay objective in the face of tragicomic bigotry – but it’s a role that demands some franchise-style camp. If one must nitpick further, the more enjoyable characters don’t get enough screen-time. It’s a tightrope walk, and a populated premise always runs the risk of ‘forgetting’ its strengths.  

Murder Mubarak on Netflix
Murder Mubarak on Netflix

Turning Negatives into Positives

Speaking of priorities, a chunk of Murder Mubarak is devoted to a lingering romance that looks at odds with the larger eccentricities of the story. There are various reasons for this, not least the lack of chemistry. This makes sense in hindsight, but it’s hard to digest while it’s happening. Consequently, it becomes a filler that keeps us waiting for the funner and emptier stuff. I do, however, like that the casting riffs on our perception of actors like Vijay Varma and Sara Ali Khan. Varma, a master at playing dark men, weaponizes this image to the film’s advantage; as a result, the writing leads us down some predictable but effective smokescreens. And Khan’s penchant for over-expression is written into her character for the third time in recent memory – after Atrangi Re and Gaslight. It’s not entirely successful, but the braver scripts often improvise to justify an artist’s limitations. 

The challenge for such whodunits is to allow its decorations and frills to breathe, while not distracting from the broader commentary. Regardless of formula, the climactic twist (or revelation) plays a key role in rationalizing the treatment and flaws of the film. This one does a decent job in that sense, because the ‘victims’ remain prey to the whims and romanticisms of the privileged class. The trick is to not glorify the gimmick and motive of the killer under the guise of storytelling. The film comes mighty close but stops just short, instead filling in the blanks of more atmospheric thrillers like Jaane Jaan (2023). The easy voice-overs, tell-all monologues and multiple tracks can grate, but these are necessary evils for a story that hinges on institutionalized pride and prejudices. Watching a mourner at a funeral stretching to click a selfie with a passing celebrity can be morbidly funny. But at the end of the day, it’s the coffin that does the talking. It’s the heart that reveals the body. Murder Mubarak takes the scenic route to find the balance, but it arrives. And it commits. Better late – if not straight – than never. 

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