Language: Hindi / 160 mins
Direction: Neeraj Pandey
Produced by: Friday Filmworks, Shital Bhatia, Dhaval Gada, Jayantilal Gada, Akkshay Gada, Karan Shah
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Siddharth Malhotra, Kumud Mishra, Adil Hussain, Rakul Preet Singh, Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher
Cinematography: Sudhir Palsane; Editing: Praveen Kathikuloth
Music: Sanjoy Chowdhury
Hindi | Drama, Political | 157 Mins | India | 2018
When a filmmaker evolves, he sees unidimensional growth (usually). In other words, he debuts with an easy-to-handle, small budget script shot in limited locations with a cast that he can control. If it sees success, he grows a little more confident and bigger, expanding exponentially and along predictable lines. The results too are on expected lines. For eg, think Yash Chopra; there is Yash Chopra who always made films around love stories. He did it in predictable ways - foreign locations, chiffon sarees, well-manicured heroes, powder puff and candy floss. Raju Hirani addresses pressing issues with soft punchlines, peppering his work with good humour. Sanjay Bhansali has not yet moved out of his love-me-and-my-opera style. You get the drift. Basically, you know what to expect with every filmmaker as patterns emerge over a period of time and successive films.
But rare is a man who delves within. Who taps his other dimensions; who likes to dig deep and intense. A man who builds layers into his craft and creates complex pictures - like creating a 3D image with 2D material. Rare is such a man and Neeraj Pandey is his name. Aiyaary is not just about the ‘aiyaars’ / shape shifters / Military Intelligence (MI) officers of the Indian Army who change their appearance at will and are on surveillance duties. Being an aiyaar is only its starting point. The story itself weaves a slightly more complex plot involving the Indian Army and international Arms Dealers; MI officers turning rogue; ex-generals turned middlemen brokering weapon deals across continents; girlfriends getting caught in the web and, of staked reputations. So who are the real Aiyaars?
So, Major Jai Bakshi (Siddharth Malhotra) has been taught that, ‘listening is a fine art’ by his boss Col. Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee). Being part of a special MI unit makes him privy to confidential conversations and one such conversation between the Army chief (Vikram Gokhale) and General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) leads him to a key decision in his life. He turns rogue, suddenly posing a danger to the very institution that has nurtured him. Bajpayee is put on the job to ensure that the culprit be brought to book. But there is more that is at stake. Billion dollar Arm deals which could go down the drain; media tip-offs which promise a circus at some point; hackers roped in to aid and abet these operations across continents.
The characters of Jai Bakshi and Abhay Singh are complementary but juxtaposed; they seem to be working at cross-purposes yet in tandem; they are wired into the same networks and same people, both moving in the same direction but will likely arrive at different results. And they are both ruthless but humane. Taken together they are but an oxymoron – to borrow a figure of speech. Two sides of the same coin. But are they?
Others characters include a Retd General Gurinder Singh (played by a rotund and effective Kumud Mishra) a wily right hand man to an international arms dealer Mukesh Kapoor (suave and graying Adil Hussain) who brokers deals with the Army. Sonia Gupta (Rakul Preet Singh) a hacker who also doubles up as Jai Bakshi’s girlfriend. And finally there is Naseeruddin Shah, the common man who is key to all the chaos playing out around him.
And Aiyaary is a film which though bereft of 3D effects, gives you that multi-dimensional feel – so finely layered, structured and crafted it is. No one character is less or more important and, there doesn’t seem to be one streamlined plot moving from point A to B with predictable results. Additionally, the filmmaker pushes you – the audience, to keep up with all that is happening simultaneously but seamlessly.
That is Pandey’s craft as a screenplay writer and that of his editor Praveen Kathikuloth. Pandey scores big on screenplay. The dialogues are pithy, the action rapid and overall the script makes zero concession for audiences used to spoon feeding. It does not follow traditional, linear structure of a Hindi film. Aiyaary, for those who can keep up with its fast pace is a thrilling journey for most part. Yet, all is not perfect.
Like all makers, Pandey too falters. Its music, composed by Sanjoy Chowdhury (legendary Salil Chowdhury’s son) in parts is reminiscent of Pandey’s last film, Baby’s background score. It is repetitive in portions. As in the past, there is a monologue by a key character (remember Shah in ‘A Wednesday’) – in this case its Jai Bakshi, justifying why he is doing what he is. But it makes for a convincing argument from the perspective of a common man. Pandey details even his minor characters usually, but his female characters this time, especially Singh’s wife and Bakshi’s mother give you a feeling of déjà vu. Only that Akshay Kumar’s wife in ‘Baby’ was far more believable.
Yet, Aiyaary is a film to be watched. It may just turn out to be a sleeper hit, like most of Pandey’s films so far. Go for it. You’ll not come home disappointed.