(First published on Firstpost)
Wazir hooks you in the beginning, with its technical finesse. The film starts with a smooth, slow motion nikaah of the perfectly good looking couple: Daanish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) and Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari).
The melodious song "Tere Bin" covers a few years more; we see the couple with a child and a family life. Soon they are in a car, the dad driving and managing a cute, little daughter in the back seat, adjusting her ghungroos for an upcoming dance performance. The tension in that happy family sequence is palpable, and leads to a gripping action sequence, thanks to skillful camera work and editing, and helmed by an equally confident director, Bejoy Nambiar.
The rapid pace is maintained through the first half of Wazir and by interval time, you look forward to the rest of the film. But by the end, you feel like the chess player who has been told ‘checkmate’ a bit too soon and a bit too easily.
The film plays out exactly as if Vidhu Vinod Chopra woke up one morning and exclaimed, "What an idea!" Yes, one can congratulate him on it, but that’s all it is: an idea with lots of wannabe, clever chess moves that boils down to one big gimmick costing some multi crores to provide an experience any entertaining game can give.
Moving back to the film. There are two chess players who bond over two dead people and a common enemy-- a politician, Yezaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul). Daanish has a professional guise of a suspended ATS officer. Yes, it looks like a guise as all the anti terrorist activity is too sketchy.
The other player—Pandit Omkarnath (Amitabh Bachchan) has an even thinner guise. He says he teaches chess to little children and also directs them in plays. He has lost his legs, is wheelchair bound, has uncombed, grey hair and a glazed expression in his eyes. He appears out of the blue, or rather a dark night, outside a graveyard, flashes blinding car headlights on a suicidal Daanish. Soon they meet and they talk about their dead one. Well, Pandit talks, Daanish listens. They play chess, drink vodka, chase revenge and things escalate when a villain called Wazir (Neil Nitin Mukesh) makes a dramatic entry.
The screenplay by Chopra and Abhijat Joshi moves fast, despite some tiresome chess metaphors of horses, kings and pawns and of course the all important queen–the wazir (read in Bachchan drawl). Some nice lines are added for the entertainment effect, which work quite well, “shatranj hota to haathi ghode daudte, kutte nahin”.
The moment the empathy moves from Daanish to Pandit, the script loses steam. Both have personal tragedies, but one never feels Pandit’s pain. This is partly because of Pandit’s unbelievable character made worse by Bachchan’s theatrical performance.
Farhan’s intensely sensitive reactions to any situation without a hint of melodrama, as a helpless man suffering from guilt, keeps you emotionally invested in the film. He does not have a single, powerful dialogue in the film. Those, of course are reserved for the Badshaah of dialogue delivery, Bachchan. But every time Bachchan says something moving, it is Farhan’s silent reaction that brings out the deeper emotion. As they say, reacting is also acting and Farhan has truly mastered it.
Manav Kaul as the bad politician makes an impact with his pleasant face and smile, masking the evil within. Neil Nitin Mukesh has always had a strong presence in negative roles and makes the most out within a limited duration. John Abraham does not seem sure about why he is playing a cameo and neither are you. Aditi Rao Hydari has never looked more beautiful and convincing and is a welcome change from glamorous heroines we usually see on screen.
However, the actors can only do so much. The fun of any game is not in the winning or losing but in the chase and the challenge. Things happen too easily and quickly in Wazir. The moment Daanish wants to take on an opponent, he does it at the speed of chess horses and elephants, combined. Right in the beginning, he gets his immediate revenge. No sweat, no toil, no tears. It’s as if the script is charging, full ammunition towards the big revelation in the end, like a prize at the end of a treasure hunt.
Treated like a game of chess, Wazir ends up as just that and no more. Nambiar’s direction and Farhan’s performance display their individual talents but do little for the film as a whole. Wazir boils down to nothing but an expensive gimmick. So that producer Chopra can say a smug, ‘checkmate’.