'Neeyat' movie review: Vidya Balan can’t pull up this dangling murder mystery
A close inspection might reveal some answers. Whodunits were interactive before the word was spewed by a VR glass-wearing teenager.
I wonder why audiences can’t get enough of the whodunit. I mean the genre hasn’t evolved much since 1985’s Clue (Ok, don’t get your Knives Out). Closed-room mysteries generally make me roll my eyes. The setting itself is antique. A secluded mansion, a lavish party, the rich host dies, all the guests are suspects, and an eccentric detective joins the dots. And then there were none too many. But then, the Agatha Christie mystery has sold over 100 million copies since it was first published in 1939. It might be the highest-selling mystery novel of all time. There must be more to it.
A close inspection might reveal some answers. Whodunits were interactive before the word was spewed by a VR glass-wearing teenager. It doesn’t require viewers to form a connection with its characters, like in other genres. Once the crime is committed, the audience is shoulder-to-shoulder with the detective in a battle of wits. Now it is all about finding the pieces and solving the puzzle. I would take it over watching a Rubik’s cube being solved for two hours.
So, needless to say, there was nothing much pulling me towards Neeyat (except, maybe Rahul Bose’s hammy act). It has its selling points though. Vidya Balan is solving a mystery, the last time she did that we had Kahaani. It is also director Anu Menon’s (Waiting, Shakuntala Devi) foray into the whodunit. The film opens on a scenic castle off the shore in Scotland. A misty setting. Perfect for a cold-blooded murder. We meet heavyset billionaire Ashish Kapoor aka AK (Ram Kapoor), who is hiding in the UK after siphoning off Rs 20,000 crore from Indian banks (Mallya, Choksi?). Eight of his employees died by suicide after they weren’t paid salaries. But it’s the old oligarch’s birthday. Time to celebrate.
The guest list is an Indie filmmaker’s dream. There is the gaudy Jimmy Mistry (Rahul Bose), AK’s brother-in-law from his dead wife and also his “Party CEO”; his young girlfriend Lisa (Shahana Goswami); his coke-snorting son Rayan Kapoor (a perfectly cast Shashank Arora), who is attending the party with his partner Gigi (Prajakta Koli); there are AK’s friends Dr. Sanjay Suri (Neeraj Kabi), his wife Noor Suri (Dipannita Sharma) and their aspiring filmmaker son Ishaan (Madhav Deval); AK’s “healer” and tarot-card reader Zara (Niki Walia), his “distant-relative” Sasha (Ishika Mehra) and his loyal assistant Kay (Amrita Puri) are also among the attendees.
There is a surprise visitor too: CBI officer Mira Rao (Vidya Balan). All of them are welcomed by the side-smirking steward Tanveer (Danesh Razvi). Neeyat remains engaging when it is laying out its cards. Characters are introduced with their names splayed over on the screen in Vogue font. A quirky voiceover adds to the humour. In accordance with the beats of a closed-room mystery, everyone has a bone to pick from and reasons to stick a knife in Ram Kapoor’s AK. Who could it be? A disgruntled employee? A jealous friend? A rebellious son? A sycophant relative? A gold-digging girlfriend? A dog dies, a chandelier falls, and lights go off. Neeyat provides enough red herrings to keep one off the scent. The host is finally found, face-up, down a cliff.
Another aspect of an engaging mystery is the one solving it. Vidya Balan, with her bangs and donning an oversized jacket, reminds me of Mare of Eastttown. But the only investigation she does is pulling out drawers or finding secret ones behind paintings. The only idiosyncrasy she has is casually dropping some chemistry mumbo jumbo. Her character feels like it has been written weakly and makes Balan appear stony. She even gets asked, “Are you a robot?”
A mystery is essentially a magic trick and everything lies in the reveal. For Neeyat, it comes a tad bit too late and when it does, it’s filled with genre cliches like a fainting perfume, a missing red briefcase and a guest with a dagger in his heart. It throws all its darts on the board, hoping some might hit the mark. Somewhere towards the climax, the worst happens to the film. The puzzle isn’t showing a promising picture and we quietly abandon the quest to find the lost pieces. Now, with the mystery all knotted up like a pocketed pair of earphones there isn’t much to hold on to. Blame the genre or the makers. Anyway, I told you so.
Cast: Vidya Balan, Ram Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Neeraj Kabi, Shashank Arora, Shahana Goswami, Prajakta Koli
Director: Anu Menon