Film Review: Aurangzeb
May 23, 2013
An ensemble piece with strong moralistic values that is unfortunately dampened by clichés, weak female roles and surplus plotting.
A shamed policeman (a short but effective cameo by Anupam Kher) slowly approaching his death informs his policeman son, the cynically suppressed Arya (Prithviraj Sukumaran) that he secretly fathered another family shortly after Arya’s mother’s death. Now it is Arya’s responsibility to look after them. When he visits the family, he discovers that his ‘brother’ Vishal (Arjun Kapoor) is a dead ringer for Ajay, the abrasive son of criminal tycoon Yashwardhan (Jackie Shroff). With the help of his strong, assertive uncle, DCP Ravikant (Rishi Kapoor) they hatch a plan to switch Vishal with Ajay in order to infiltrate Yashwardhan’s business and to bring his corrupt empire down. But once seedha-saada Vishal is embroiled in the politics of power, he begins to wonder whose side he should really be fighting for. As does Arya. As does Ajay.
Let’s get one thing straight – forget the posters you’ve seen, the scantily-clad music video you may have noticed on syndication, even the innovative marketing strategy that has Arjun Kapoor playing a double role in his media interviews. This. Is. An. Ensemble. Piece. The promotions for the film have all but claimed that Arjun Kapoor’s Ajay/Vishal is the next Don movie. With the great box office that the aforementioned franchise made, it’s not a surprise why they wanted to do this, but the truth is that Aurangzeb is a lot more intelligent than Shah Rukh Khan’s entertainer.
There are some truly strong, interesting themes at play here. How much of our personality is dependent on societal upbringing over genetic inheritance? Can we be family without sharing the same blood? Should ambition trump family? Should family trump justice? Each of the male characters in this film has a part to play, and director Atul Sabharwal has done a great job in devising a strong ensemble of three-dimensional men, all with their own ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. Arjun Kapoor, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Rishi Kapoor and Jackie Shroff should be well commended for their fantastic performances here. Fantastic male performances for male characters.
The moments where the film truly fails is when it attempts to cater to the ‘public’ (i.e. horny Indian men) with slow-motion bikini swims and unnecessarily long sex scenes, courtesy of Brit-Asian actress Sashaa Agha. As her debut, Sashaa unfortunately delivers a below-par performance, showing more talent for her vocals on the film’s song "Barbaadiyaan". Female talents are generally wasted here, with even Amrita Singh’s comeback as Yashwardhan’s shifty moll Nina coming off a bit stale. Not all of the blame can be taken by the actresses – the female characters just aren’t very well-developed. Let’s not even get started on Tanvi Azmi’s ‘80s antihero’s mother’ stereotype previously designed for Rakhee / Nirupa Roy.
With so many characters and multi-stranded stories to follow, it would have been easy for the viewer to get lost but thankfully the characters are so diverse that this is never a predicament. Unfortunately, there are plot holes aplenty that are often covered up by lazy writing. A continuous occurrence is a character witnessing something bad, only to tell the culprit in vivid detail how they’re not going to get away with it as they’re going to straight to the police. “And there’s nothing you can do about it. What are you going to do? Shoot me?” Duh.
Inspirations from Hollywood films such as The Devil’s Double and True Romance are clearly visible, in addition to Bollywood classics like Khal Nayak and Don (obviously). Inspirations work fine in a film, other than when they are (a) scenes copied action for action or (b) scenes that have inspired so many other films that they’ve become downright clichés. Unfortunately for Aurangzeb, it claims the latter – the Mexican stand-off, the bad-guy-gone-good,…Nirupa Roy. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired, but Sabharwal really should have put his own spin on it if he wanted to go down this path.
With just a little more development, Aurangzeb could have been a masterpiece. It has its heart in the right place with three-dimensional characters you care for, great cinematography, a heap of strong morals relevant to today’s India and a fantastic story where you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s just a real pity that the journey is peppered with idiocy between the genius that is clearly visible here. For his next film, this reviewer implores Sabharwal to forget about box office and what he’s seen in other people’s films, but to follow his own heart – because that’s where Aurangzeb really gets it right.