Abhinay Deo’s putative film noir is a wishy-washy comedy thriller that sucks your brain into a puzzle of sub-plots you wouldn’t want to solve. Even a power lift by its main man, Irrfan Khan, only drags Blackmail to its nugatory conclusion, but not before you’ve acquainted yourself thoroughly with the location of the exit door.
The premise of the film plays out in its first act and the revelations thereafter are of little consequence. The characters, though, are fleshed out to suit the genre. Dev Bakshi (Irrfan) is a naïve man in a one-sided marriage. He idles away time in office to spend less time at home and his sexual frustration finds outlet in voyeuristic pleasures — he surreptitiously lifts pictures of his colleagues’ wives for a ritualistic trip to the office loo before heading home, where he watches his wife Reena (Kirti Kulhari) sitting in bed through a crack in the wall. His routine gives Reena, who passes time watching C-grade Bollywood and only interacts with Dev for money matters, the opportunity to indulge in adultery with her ex-boyfriend Ranjit (Arunoday Singh) — a stupidus maximus, muscular toy-boy who dumped her to marry the much-older Dolly Verma (Divya Dutta) for her money. Dev finds himself cuckolded when he spots Reena and Ranjit in his bedroom through the same crack in the wall.
Through his murderous thoughts that collide with his non-confrontational attitude, shifty body-language and repressed discomfort, Khan is successful in winning the empathy of the audience. The rest of the characters, excepting Ranjit, are stereotypes, which misuses the potential of great acting talent: Divya Dutta as an alcoholic cougar, Kirti Kulkarni as a bored wife, Dev’s boss DK (Omi Vaidya) as an unscrupulous businessman. What connects them, though, is the unworldly stupidity that the plot relies on. But the lack of edges makes the characters utterly predictable.
The distribution of screen time, too, is skewed. You can either feel for their misery, or laugh at them. But the film fails to make that connection with its viewers.
BlackmailThe film was originally called Raita, which would have been a more suitable title, given the circle of cross-blackmail that traps the lead cast, and that’s what the film is all about. Revenge takes a backseat. The use of repetition — like Dev’s thoughts of killing people — as a device to deliver unpredictable outcomes in similar circumstances falls flat. Deaths at the drop of a hat plunge the story into dire confusion and add little by way of suspense to the supposed thriller.
The background music that reflects Dev’s despondency and anger, and the lead track “Badla” by Divine that is reminiscent of Deo’s wonderful Delhi Belly, sets the tone for a fast-paced thriller infused with morbid humour. But the film never takes off. The edgy screenplay with situational jump cuts and a variety of camera angles occasionally grab attention, but are let down by the endless unfolding of inconsequential events.
Notable interventions by private detective Chawla and Dolly’s mobster papaji bring a few moments of relief, even without effective punch lines. Irrfan makes the film watchable. But the cameo of Urmila Matondkar as a bar dancer is, hands down, the worst attempt at a comeback in Bollywood. Skip the song if you watch the film, when it inevitably premiers on TV.