Watching truly skilled chess players going at each other is an experience both lyrical and violent, as they bleed and behead across the sixty-four squares like duelling ninjas in slow-motion. Watching a game between people who only believe they’re good at chess, however, is plain infuriating.
Bejoy Nambiar’s Wazir — based on a script by producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra — stacks the pieces interestingly, to begin with. There is a brooding rook, flawed but furious. There is a desperate pawn with nothing to lose. There are dead princesses to make up for the lack of a queen, and there is, finally, a bishop, a wazir, lethal enough to have the film named after him. It appears to be the ideal mix for a taut thriller and, weighing in commendably enough at just over a hundred minutes, this is certainly crisp.
Wazir’s problem, then, lies not in the fact that it does what is expected from a thriller; the problem is that it does everything expected — which makes it a film that surprises little and adds up to nothing of consequence. The film is about a tough, reckless cop and a grizzled chess instructor bound together by tragedy, and as they become friends, they resolve to brave the storm clouds together. This world of the film is intriguing enough as it stands and Nambiar, to his credit, plays things efficiently enough at the start — till the plot-twists kick in and the pieces fall off the board. The twists are entirely transparent, the film so committed to idiotproofing the narrative that we see everything coming, particularly the one big twist.
Yet, even when visible well in advance, a cleverly executed twist-and-reveal is a thing of beauty. Wazir’s twist, alas, doesn’t make any sense — or feel, in any way, monumental, thanks to how matter of factly it is revealed and consumed — and neither does much else in this moody revenge drama. I can’t go into detail for fear of spoiling an elaborate (if contrived) plot, but suffice it to say that none of the character motives in this film actually add up. Plus there’s some unnecessary hokum about Kashmir that just muddies things further.
Farhan Akhtar, crossing his arms and glaring at children who beat him at chess, is pretty good as Daanish early on in the film, but his performance starts to unravel once the film hits hysterical gear and he is required to do more than frown. To be fair, this is less the actor’s fault and more that of the imbecilic character, a very dim policeman indeed. Amitabh Bachchan is Panditji, the maestro teaching Daanish about life and love and, rather reprehensibly, how you can hit ‘undo’ and cancel a chess move after having moved the pieces. Bachchan, of course, is great at spouting simple homilies and make them appear spontaneous. Some of these dialogues are well thought-out and add to the sense of mood, while cinematographer Sanu Verghese keeps the lighting shadowy, hiding character’s eyes and keeping things raccoon-y — pausing only to let Aditi Rao Hydari glow, sad but striking.
And then Neil Nitin Mukesh shows up as a maniac, hamming it up as if squeezing six seasons of Game Of Thrones into one mad moment, eyes gleaming and dagger afire. The film can’t survive this onslaught, and the third act — clearly not strong enough to begin with — collapses into itself as things struggle to wrap up. This is a film where a dancer’s daughter dances and a chess-teacher’s daughter teaches chess, a film where a suspended cop wields great power without presumably being able to spell ‘responsibility,’ and a film where an actor in a cameo gets to basically play Rambo.
Somewhere in the shadows lurks Manav Kaul, cool and inscrutable and making this film look good. He, it appears, is more committed to this end than Nambiar himself who, dispiritingly enough, forgoes his usual distinctive visual gimmickry almost completely in this film. I would never recommend that all films feature some KhoyaKhoyaChand-ugiri, but this one cries out for visual zip, for some seriously slick style. Thus this thriller isn’t merely predictable but depressingly drab. It has competent moments, but is too generic to be memorable, and that’s a shame for it could so easily have been a winner. As it stands, Wazir is the one thing a chess player can never afford to be: obvious.
Rating: 2 stars
First published Rediff, January 8, 2015