The infamous 1959 Nanavati case had spawned a couple of early films, neither of which came close to the lurid excitement of the real- life incident which involved a handsome naval officer, his lovely-but-lonely wife, and her lover, and a sensational murder.
And yet both Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke and Achanak bear a stronger allegiance to the Nanavati case than Akshay Kumar’s Rustom, which borrows the core idea, and then adds a layer of extra intrigue. The idea may have been to spice up an already spicy plot, but the result is dilution, and it doesn’t work in the favour of the film.
The treatment leaches all complexity from the film. It lies supine on the screen, flattened further by the way the characters come and go: Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) as the naval officer-cum-cuckold, his straying wife Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz), the other guy Vikarm Makhija (Arjan Bajwa), his ultra-glamorous, vengeful sister (Esha Gupta), chief investigating officer Lobo (Pavan Malhotra), eager beaver newspaper man Billimoria (Kumud Mishra): they interact with each other in a stiff rehearsed manner, and by the second half, when the film shifts to the fight in the court, and turns into a procedural, it becomes flat-out dull.
There is not a single frisson of excitement or fear or real emotion: How could the filmmakers have turned a crime of such high passion into such a dreary piece of work?
The woman who errs is handed out extenuating circumstances. Her husband hurt her, so she wanted to get back at him: yes, she felt abandoned but why couldn’t she just plain and simple be attracted to another man? That’s what led to the affair in the first place. It happened at a time when no one spoke aloud of such things: why is Rustom, made in 2016, so chary of showing a desirous woman? It makes D’Cruz a too-flushed, badly-made-up teary bundle, instead of a woman, craving attention and basking in it, as her right. And Gupta comes off an over-painted, over-coiffed, slit-eyed harpy.
The lover is a cad who deserves to die, not because he sleeps with the wife, but because he is a greedy, corrupt `gaddar’, consorting with shady white people and an even shadier deal. And the naval officer may have wielded the gun that caused the fellow to die, but he is no murderer: how can Akshay the Hero be a weak killer?
That really is the weakest spot of the film, despite its leading man trying hard to fill his part with star appeal. In its zeal to make Akshay’s character noble, the script papers over his human weakness: the first time he appears, on board his ship, resplendent in his white, decorated uniform, it is an old-style ‘entry’. It instantly deadens the film which should have taken Akshay into a braver, rockier terrain than he has inhabited till now.
In Airlift, he showed how he could take a quasi-real part and run with it. The film, despite its many concessions to ‘reality’, worked because the star made sure he was believable. The only time we connect with Rustom is when we are allowed to see the anguish and pained resolve in Akshay’s eyes.
If only that feeling, and other emotions—stuff that comes with the territory of love and betrayal and murder– permeated the film: the rest, alas, is cardboard.