D Day: Real Fiction !

After a couple of damp squibs (‘Chandni Chowk to China,’ ‘Patiala House’) despite a bumper debut like ‘Kal Ho Na Ho,’ one kinda awaited Nikhil Advani’s next offering with mixed feelings. However, he has ably redeemed himself with D Day. Rather unimaginatively titled; my guess is the name is a take-off on Dawood Ibrahim’s D gang, since the story is all about Dawood. However, that’s perhaps my only quibble with the movie.

Loosely translated, the plot is about RAW agents (Irrfan Khan as Wali Khan and Huma Qureshi as Zoya Rehman) and a Lone Ranger ex-army dude, Captain Rudra Pratap Singh (Arjun Rampal) whose mission it is to capture the bizarrely-named Goldman – go figure! – urf Iqbal (Rishi Kapoor). The crux on which the plot hinges is Goldman’s visit to Pakistan for his son’s wedding. Wali Khan has been a sleeper agent in Pakistan for the last nine years, awaiting the right opportunity to carry out his mission. He has a wife (new find Shriswara) and son there; to all intents and purposes he’s a good-natured, slightly simple-minded barber. Zoya flies into Karachi when it is verified that Goldman will be attending the wedding, and checks into the five-star hotel that will be the scene of action. Rudra wends his torturous way across the desert, crosses the border, and blends into the scenery by the most uncomplicated manner – he heads to Karachi’s brothel district. There, he meets and develops some tender feelings for a prostitute, Suraiya (Shruti Hassan.) Aslam (Aakash Dahiya) makes up the fourth member of the team and is the infiltrator into Goldman’s gang as his driver.

Even though the film’s promos don’t openly mention it, it’s a given that Goldman’s character is modelled on Dawood Ibrahim. Much of the fiction in the movie is based on documented fact, hence the intended pun as the header. I’m not sure whether the wedding of the year coincided with the volcanic eruption in Iceland when all flights to Europe were disrupted, however, makes no never mind – it’s some very clever juxtapositioning by the scriptwriter and that’s all that matters, innit. The scenes where Goldman is given the royal treatment by Pakistan’s top military echelon; where he not-so-subtly mentions the house in London that’s been bought for the General; the alert manner in which the ISI picks up Wali’s wife and son from the airport; the fast-fading disillusionment with Goldman by the ISI and the military – all very well handled. I do hope the nitpickers aren’t going to pick on any seditious Pakistan dialogues; India equally hasn’t been shown with a shining halo, witness the callous manner in which she abandons her agents when the mission fails. The latter is reality by the way, and no particular nation gets assigned blame for it – it’s just the way the cookie crumbles. If you’re caught, very often it’s your own country that will be hunting you down. And let’s not have any tosh about the movie “glorifying” the underworld – oh puhleeese!

Irrfan Khan – one of my favourites. The manner in which he gets into the role and becomes the character is, quite simply, uncanny. He switches effortlessly between simpleton to cool-headed agent to emotional family man. Arjun Rampal is very effective in the movie. Here’s the thing – he’s always looked good, no dispute there. However, as an actor, he has consistently ignored that vital little element so inherent to an all-rounded actor’s make-up – voice modulation and dialogue delivery – as a result of which, he always comes across as wooden. In D Day, he has few dialogues; his job is to look watchfully menacing and give off some well-aimed kicks and punches as the situation demands, a criterion he fulfils ably.

Huma Qureshi is a marvel. Utterly believable as a single-minded ruthless agent. As I’ve commented before, the girl is a natural. Still a long way to go and nowhere near to being compared to her hugely talented dad Kamal Hassan, Shruti Hassan has nonetheless done a fairly creditable job.

Rishi Kapoor gets a completely new lease of life with this movie, although one saw a glimmer in Agneepath. Gone is the romantic crooner, the naughty lover-boy. In his stead we have a supercilious, cold-blooded criminal contemptuous of all, who believes everyone has a price; a vicious thug who justifies his actions to himself by saying killing is a business, not a crime. Kapoor not only acts the part with elan, he looks the part – all kudos to the make-up artist and costume designer here.

Dialogues are racy and very pertinent. Goldman gets some good stuff to spout: “The world calls me a terrorist. But this is my business.” Or “Darra ke dukaan khadi ki hai. Darr gaya toh bandh ho jaayegi.” The references to Big Boss and media gas-bags Barka, Rajdeep, Arnab are wicked, tongue-in-cheek and oh-so apt! Advani and a couple of others have been credited with the script writing – good job. The casting director deserves a special pat on the back; every actor has been hand-picked to suit his or her character.

Ahh, there is a God! No unnecessary song-and-dance routines litter such a thriller; the songs serve as background score for certain scenes and therefore, don’t jar. The trio of Shankaar-Ehsaan-Loy have done some commendable work here, in particular, ‘Alvida.’ Cinematography by Tushar Kanti Ray is exact, hard-hitting and realistic; grainy or glitzy as the scene demands. Editors Aarif Sheikh and Unni Krishnan have done wonders in a story like this that has so many elements to it; editing is taut and, particularly in Suraiya’s death scene, sends shivers up your spine.

Incidentally, the manner in which this scene has been composed and shot is a story by itself.

Of course there are some bits that jar and I wouldn’t be a critic if I didn’t spot the loopholes! So how come the pictures of these four agents is flashed across the length and breadth of Pakistan and yet they manage to find a hidey-hole AND turn up for the wedding too, without resorting to the slightest attempt at disguise? Also, the scene where the bhanjaa (Chandan Roy Sanyal) wipes his hands on Rudra after killing Suraiya, leaving bloody handprints all down the kurta, is just playing to the gallery. Every single movie nowadays has the mandatory smooch scene. Not that I’m objecting, IF it were absolutely integral to the plot. But with celebrating a 100-years of Indian cinema this year, I do wonder where Indian cinema is headed to, given that India itself is on the fast track to the den of iniquity.

Okay, I’m going to lay off the adjectives and tell it as it is. If you’re going to be reaching into your popcorn bucket for the last corn kernel, you’re going to miss a twist of the plot. That’s how fast-paced and gripping the story is. A superbly-crafted movie and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again, if only to dip into my popcorn!

*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.

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