16 Feb 2018

Aiyaary: Passable Army Drama Devoid of Pace, Thrill & Tension

Major Jai Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra) is declared a traitor by his covert army unit headed by Colonel Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) for conducting unauthorized surveillance on high profile people and disappearing without a trace. Jai flees to London with his girlfriend Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh) with shocking army secrets that threaten to bring down India's government and expose corruption in the Indian army.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army Chief (Vikram Gokhale) is offered a huge bribe by Retd. Lt. General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) for allowing the purchase of overpriced foreign weapons. On the army chief's refusal, Gurinder threatens to expose Abhay's covert operations and the off-the-books expenditure incurred on the secret unit. Jai is allegedly Gurinder's informer. Abhay must track and kill Jai to save his team and restore Indian army's honor.

No Central Theme 
Considering that the premise takes some explaining, Neeraj Pandey begins Aiyaary on a promising note, dispersing tantalizing clues. But the film never takes off, except as mildly engaging "true events" inspired drama. There are barely any thrills, zero tense moments, and no sense of danger. We barely connect with the characters.

Two Striking Aspects 
Slow-motion dulls the impact in almost every scene where it is so repeatedly and stubbornly used. On a film devoid of any action set-pieces, slo-mo makes for a redundant, irritating effect. The film needed silent bits between the relentless background music to build any kind of tension. The silences are woefully missing. No edge-of-the-seat entertainment here as in Pandey's Special 26 (2013) and Baby (2015).

The ever-competent Manoj Bajpayee does most of the heavy weighting. But there is no engaging story to back his character, a Kashmir army anecdote lacks insight. Siddarth Maholtra lacks intensity and lazily strolls through with his customary cuteness and urban sophistication. His performance is a big letdown.

Rakul Preet Singh is earnest in the teeny bit role. Naseeruddin Shah culminates the movie with a rocking performance, lifting an otherwise sketchily written part. Bit acts by Anupam Kher, Adil Hussian and especially Kumud Mishra are watchable.

Too Many Threads
Aiyaary may be a faithful retelling of true events, but there is no direction at its core. Unlike Pandey's striking debut A Wednesday (2008), Aiyaary goes round in circles without arriving at any strong, resonant conclusions.

Greedy arms dealers, corrupt army men, derby betting watchman, a rogue agent, faithful girlfriend, opportunist media, sly informers...it is the case of too many and too much to be packed into one film.  At best, the film would have worked as a tense action-based thriller with a bit of the present story premise.

As for the fabled shapeshifting form (Aiyaar) that the film title takes after, the symbolic impact barely registers.

Aiyaary is passable, sincerely made, but ends up as a dull thriller that never lifts off the screen.

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