Chehre: Missing The Honest Face Of A Film

Rachit Raj
Rachit Raj

Rumy Jafry‘s Amitabh Bachchan starrer suspense thriller Chehre released in theatres in August and then on OTT (Amazon Prime) on September 30. Here is a delayed review of the film (that was ignored earlier) on the eve of Amitabh Bachchan‘s birthday by Rachit Raj. Rachit prefers to be called a film critic by accident, an academician by design, and a storyteller by choice.

Chehre attempts to be an atmospheric thriller, a court drama, a murder mystery all wrapped into one. It is the kind of movie that begins with the film-maker quite blatantly filming at a foreign location (I suspect Europe) and trying to sell it as an area two-hundred odd kilometers from Delhi. It is a cheap cop-out for an exotic location that almost immediately tells us the kind of paper-thin narrative we are going to be forced into in the next two hours.

The idea is simple (and honestly quite stupid). Sameer Mehra (Emraan Hashmi) is stuck in a storm and is forced to take refuge in a large, colonial mansion where he finds a group of retired law professionals. There are lawyers, namely Lateef Zaidi (Amitabh Bachchan), and Paramjeet Singh Bhuller (Annu Kapoor), a judge (Dhritiman Chatterjee), and an executioner Hariya Jatav (Raghubir Yadav).

The story is spun like a game that these retired men play to kill their boredom. A fake court case which is fought using all the legal jargon that we have come to associate Hindi films pretending to understand law with. On this particular evening, the case is a concocted one against their guest, Mr. Mehra.

Writer-director Rumy Jafry uses this “game” to slowly uncover the layers of Sameer Mehra’s seemingly functional, successful life. Lateef Zaidi, seemingly the smartest of the lot, seems to think otherwise. He is convinced there is more to Sameer than his most sophisticated, cleansed look. No prize for guessing that he is right.

Despite a good production design (if we forget how outlandish it is that this is sold to us as India) and a stellar cast, Cherhre remains a film too insincere, too bland to be a good thriller. It is one thing to give the audience time to immerse in the atmosphere of the world that the film-maker has built, and another to make the narrative move at snail’s pace, reducing it to a gimmick instead of a tout thriller.

As the film digs deeper, the writing becomes flimsy. The sequential reveals in the second hour are predictable, and childish. Nothing ever feels too real, too urgent to care about. Predictably, the performances start to dwindle too. Each actor goes from honesty to desperation before giving in to the temptation of agonizing theatrics.

A problem with Chehre is that it is based around what is regularly referred to by the characters as a “game”. The stakes are not high enough, the setting not claustrophobic enough (remember how Pink used dusted files around the court-room as a way to make the scenes more claustrophobic?).

And just when you think the movie cannot sink deeper, there is an over-long, awfully-written Amitabh Bachchan monologue that only turns the entire narrative into a reversed joke on its ability to take itself so seriously. The narcissism of these men, and in extension of the movie, as a redefining of justice, and harbinger of impartial verdict is laughable to say the least.

The monologue, delivered with the typical Bachchan gravitas, meanders from the Nirbhaya case to political scams to justify the need to change how we understand the relationship between law and society. All done in a mock-trial by retired men to entertain their boring, isolated life. Why, you feel the need to ask.

There is no answer to that except that Chehre is a film that reminds us of why a good thriller is so rare, and hence so special; it is a reminder of how poor writing cannot be salvaged even by an Amitabh Bachchan; that a hidden CCTV camera cannot feel like a narrative afterthought.

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