D-Day: A Review

D-Day – Dir: Nikhil Advani; *ing: Irrfan Khan, Arjun Rampal, Huma Qureshi, Rishi Kapoor, Nasser, Shruti Haasan

D-Day-Poster3

To Catch A Thug

Don’t you sometimes miss the good old days of Indo-Pak cinema when neither side would refer to the other by name onscreen? Instead, both would do an eggshell dance around the unnamed foe, calling it variations of ‘parosi mulk’, like a coy filmi bride referring to her husband only as ‘suniye ji’(if said bride also happened to hate said husband’s guts). Alas, that time is long gone now, and today, naming, blaming and shaming are de rigeuer on both sides of the border. D-Day is just the latest in a fairly extensive line of Hindi films which make us, the rival country, a major part of the narrative, and not in the way of Veer Zara’s warm-and-cuddlies. No, here Pakistan is the Big Bad (kinda,sorta), harboring India’s Most Wanted criminal/terrorist mastermind, Dawood… I mean, Iqbal Seth, a.k.a Goldman (Kapoor). Why? Well, presumably for the same reason that Dennis the Menace likes to mess with Mr Wilson.

D-Day uses a quasi-non-linear story structure to set up the central question of whether a band of sleeper agents from India will be able to extract the notorious crime lord from his safe haven in Karachi, protected as he is by the local agencies. Wali (Khan), the de facto leader of the group, has been living undercover in Pakistan for almost ten years, a period during which he has married and had a son. Now called upon to chuck up his quiet, comfortable life in order to return to the mission he was originally installed for, Wali struggles with the idea of abandoning his family. Similarly, Zoya (Qureshi), an explosives expert, feels torn in opposite directions: duty, or love? And Rudra (Rampal), an ex-military operative in the game for mercenary reasons, finds himself drawn to Suraiya (Haasan), a disfigured prostitute from Karachi’s infamous Napier Road. Lending a sense of urgency to the proceedings is R&AW chief Ashwini Rao (Nasser), whose looming retirement signals that the Get Goldman operation must go into top gear with immediate effect. And so the countdown begins…

Director/co-writer Advani is not exactly known for his dalliances with films like this one; his oeuvre consists mainly of romantic fluff like Kal Ho Naa Ho and Salaam-e-Ishq – hardly the stuff of grit and grime – but he has made the transition to dark matter seemingly without a hiccough. Under his command, the cast and crew of D-Day deliver a film, perhaps not masterful or even anywhere near flawless, but certainly compelling and suspenseful, with some brilliantly executed individual set-pieces peppered throughout. Of course, some of these work better than others. For example, while the sequence set to Rekha Bhardwaj’s haunting rendition of Ek gharri aur theher is beautifully shot, it actually serves to hinder the pace, bringing the action to a halt at a crucial point. On the other hand, the opening sequence of the agents’ ambush of Goldman, which uses cross-cutting to build up to a hypnotic, frenzied crescendo as Mika belts out Ho Dama dam mast qalandar on the soundtrack, is electrifying, and just the right way to start off the story.

Elsewhere, Wali and Zoya’s respective backstories work equally well, even though their treatment is entirely different: Khan’s is explored in detail, making his predicament all that more plausible, and poignant, while we get a sense of Zoya’s past only through some rather clever use of voice-over narration. These two threads go a long way in underlining the major themes of the film, one of which is certainly the notion of individual lives sacrificed at the altar of politics, as well the moral ambiguities that plague those politics: are there really any true ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ here? In contrast, Rudra’s relationship with Suriaya is far less believable, even clichéd (let’s please retire the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ fantasy for a few centuries), though it does help to lend some definition to what is a deliberately opaque character. Of course it counts that the film has a near-dream cast. Irrfan Khan’s quietly potent performance is more than equaled by Rampal, an actor who, despite the obvious jackpot in the looks department, hasn’t really found his footing in more conventional ‘Bollywood hero’ roles. Well, he finds it alright here, essaying the cagey, inscrutable aspects of his character with a ferocious intelligence. Kapoor has fun with the unfettered amorality of Goldman but, oddly, the script doesn’t give him nearly enough to bite into; he is intriguing, yes, but not menacing. And like many other entries in the spy genre, D-Day too, goes a little off the rails towards the climax. The good news, though, is that the tepid ending in no way undoes what has gone before.

Cult: Don (1978) – Chandra Barot’s cult classic about a crime ring brought to book by a gangster’s double, couldn’t be bettered by the 2006 remake.

Current: Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobara! – Milan Luthria’s follow-up to the 2010 original about the Mumbai underworld is underwhelming in comparison.

Coming Attraction: Satya 2 – Will Ram Gopal Verma’s sequel-of-sorts be able to equal the haunting Satya (1998)?

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