Onto the next release of the weekend and I finished watching the new Hindi film Neeyat starring Vidya Balan and an ensemble cast to die for. Ever since its trailer was out, the internet was buzzing with excitement of a murder mystery(which by the way is a rarity these days) while also drawing parallels with the Hollywood film Knives Out.
We all love our share of murder mysteries, I mean who are we even kidding. We all love playing detectives and guessing the main perpetrator and if our guess does match with the final outcome, there is a sense of achievement too. When it does come to ensemble cast murder mysteries, it is Agatha Christie whose name does pop up every single time. There have been so many of her works which have made successful film transitions which does make me believe that this Agatha Christie template just cannot go wrong! Some of the films that pop up are Knives Out and The Murder On The Orient Express, or even films closer to home like The 12th Man and Khamosh. That said, I was really excited to watch Neeyat while preparing myself to crack this wicked murder mystery. My only contention being whether it was wicked enough! So then does Neeyat manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Neeyat follows the story of a murder that takes place at a secluded place where everyone is a suspect. Who is the eventual murderer?? First things first, Neeyat is NOT a copy of Knives Out although it does have similar vibes owing to the typical murder mystery template. The story here has all the ingredients for a mouth watering whodunnit – the perfect setting, the assortment of characters with multiple motives and a bag of twists and turns. The screenplay standing at well over 2 hours also have plenty of moments to allow the guessing game to set in. The problem though does lie partly in its execution which definitely could have been better!
The drama has a perfect setting of a secluded place wherein there is a warning for a storm early on in the drama. This was a good start with the announcement acting as a foreshadow almost like a lull before the storm! Soon, you are slowly introduced to the main players namely a rich business tycoon who has called his friends over to celebrate his birthday. The group comprises of many characters with different character traits with almost everyone still holding a grudge against the concerned person. The drama also does well in exploring a few themes related to the Indian Government, and you shall know who the business tycoon is modelled on instantly. While the first 30 odd minutes are dedicated to the setting and the equations that all characters share with the tycoon, the fun begins when the actual murder takes place.
The key for the viewer is to keenly observe the smallest of nuances pertaining to each character. The proceedings are enthralling particularly with the setup and it does make for a compelling watch. The issue though lies in the middle with the character motivations coming in play which did seem slightly flimsy. If you are going in expecting a Knives Out kind of an experience then this is a little different from it. It does require a little patience through the middle while the investigation is on. The caricaturish characters are slightly distracting and it made me wonder if the writers were confused with respect to the character development. But the drama is immensely watchable as the stakes are raised along with the body count!
The final act too could have been executed better with respect to the setting. And there are some solid pay-offs to be had after a slightly sluggish second act. There are multiple twists and turns which are exciting and make for a wonderful watch. Just when I thought that my guessing game was on point, the final twist in the tale just blew me away while gently touching upon a very sensitive issue. It was definitely designed with an intention to not be guessed, so stay away from spoilers. Having said this, a part of me did also think that the writers did get to the final act and almost reverse engineered every event prior to that. It was slightly manipulative but nevertheless satisfying. Overall, the screenplay isn’t perfect but it does have its moments while following a typical Agatha Christie murder mystery template which seldom can go wrong! Oh and don’t forget the mid credits scene!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational with bouts of madness in the form of a caricature. The way ahead was either to completely go a serious route or go for a slightly playful route. This was somewhere in the middle. The music and BGM are good and go perfectly with the enthralling setting of the drama. The cinematography is wonderful and captures some fascinating frames filled with mystery and intrigue. I did have an issue with the lighting though which was a little too dark for my liking, even when the drama was staged inside the mansion. The editing is pretty smooth. Director Anu Menon does a fair job here. While she was on point with the setting of the drama, there were instances here and there would could have been staged better. For instance, the final act could have been staged at the center table(like in the Malayalam film 12th Man) as opposed to a cramped up room. But generally speaking, she does a pretty good job.
The performances are pretty good here although I had two issues here – some of the characters weren’t very well developed and secondly, the character briefs for atleast a couple of characters was slightly off. Ishika Mehra as Sasha and Madhav Deval as Ishaan have their moments to shine. Rahul Bose is a dependable actor but here as Jimmy, he does go slightly overboard with his character. Danesh Razvi as Tanveer is quite good, as is Prajakta Koli as Gigi who is wonderful to watch. Niki Aneja Walia as Zara is wonderfully understated in a nicely enacted act.
Amrita Puri as Kay and Shahana Goswami as Lisa are pretty good although I did wish their characters had a little more meat. Shashank Arora as Ryan is outstanding and is absolutely spot on with his comic timing towards the end. Neeraj Kabi as Sanjay is dignified in his performance. Dipannita Sharma as Noor looks very pretty and does a swell job.
One of the performances of the film comes from Ram Kapoor who is excellent in his portrayal of a tycoon. His mannerisms are on point and he does hold the proceedings together particularly in the first hour. Vidya Balan as Mira Rao, an investigating officer in a similar mould as Poirot with her skills, is understated and more cerebral in her approach with streaks of madness. This may not be her best performance but she still does a pretty good job.
Despite its flaws with its execution, Neeyat is a playful whodunnit with wicked twists and turns that can be watched once. And yes, this isn’t a Knives Out copy(you could blame Agatha Christie for establishing an evergreen murder mystery template). Available in a theatre near you.