Aditya Chopra is the Aurangzeb of quality cinema. A number of films produced under his Yash Raj banner seem to be made by bright marketing guys instead of passionate cinema-loving writers and directors. Yash Raj Films has both the power over Bollywood and the paisa to fund these marketing guys who then brainstorm a variety of promising premises that can easily rake in money at the box office. A few of these premises are executed well but a vast majority suffers from bad treatment.
The fault is lazy writing, in most cases, and I think that’s because the writers hired to pen the screenplay don’t know what effective film writing is. I imagine these guys sitting around a circular table in an air-conditioned office, dressed up like dapper businessmen in full-sleeve shirts (including tie) and trousers, and discussing marketing concepts like ‘idea generation’, ‘new product development’ etc and trying to come up with an ‘innovative product’ that has ‘mass appeal’; film aesthetics is something that eludes them so they fling it out of the window.
It’s not like they’re totally oblivious to film concepts, as they know how to develop a coherent narrative; the problem is that their work totally lacks the nuance that make films function as art. Aditya Chopra happily gives the green light to these projects, then casts either recognized Bollywood stars or fresh faces who can act ‘the Bollywood way’. These projects are released with the well-known Yash Raj logo, marketed well enough to generate public interest and then released across most multiplexes and single-screen theater halls in India. Money is made and then everyone moves on… to the big bash celebrating the commercial success of the film, a spectacle of both power and paisa!
‘Our family is more important than our dreams’ says Anupam Kher’s character in the film, and Aditya seems to take this adage seriously – the ‘fresh faces’ he casts are usually related to someone in the big-bad-Bollywood family. Arjun Kapoor, producer Boney Kapoor’s son plays our hero(es) here, taking on the double role of Ajay and Vishal, long-lost twins who’re living completely different lives; while Ajay is the rich, reckless and spoiled son of a corrupt real estate developer, Vijay is… the other son living with his mother. We know nothing much about Vijay here, whether he had a life of his own, friends, interests etc because his basic function is to act as a plot device for the ‘swap’ that takes place.
Aurangzeb however doesn’t begin with either of these two characters; it’s the narrator Arya who narrates Aurangzeb’s story. In many ways Prithviraj Sukumaran is as much a protagonist as Arjun Kapoor but since he isn’t a big name in Bollywood, he doesn’t share any space in the film’s poster. The character he plays is the Assistant Chief of Police in Gurgaon who lives in a family of police officers. His uncle Ravikant (played by veteran Rishi Kapoor) is the DCP while his brother-in-law Dev (Sikander Kher) is another ACP.
Arya’s father calls him one day to confide in him something important about his past. The tainted officer who retired after accepting responsibility for a mistake that led to the death of a woman and her son tells his son that he had fabricated the entire story up; he reveals that the woman and his son were still alive, and that he was in a relationship with the woman. He convinces Arya to take care of the woman’s financial needs after his death; the plot itself is very eager to kill him and so, in the very next scene we see Arya visiting the woman to inform about his father’s death. Some glycerin-induced tears are shed by her while Arya stands at a distance; just then her son Vishal arrives and asks what’s happening. Arya reaches out for his gun because thinking he’s Ajay but then stops when he finds out that he’s Vishal. After he leaves their home, he calls up Ravikant and tells him to come over.
The beans are spilled soon as Vishal’s mother reveals to her son who his father is: Yashwardhan, a crime-lord masquerading as a real estate developer; on realizing her husband’s true business, Vishal’s mother acted as a mole for the police and then left her husband, leaving Vishal’s twin Ajay behind. So Yashwardhan is still under the impression his wife and other son were dead, and is currently having an affair with Nina; all we know about Nina is that she manages a high-profile escort business and helps the Yashwardhan’s company by bringing in most of the clients.
Arya is surprisingly quick in convincing Vishal’s mother to swap places with Ajay, and in the next scene itself, Ajay is taken hostage by the police officers and Vishal leaves to fulfill his task – getting confidential information about Yashwardhan’s illicit dealings which would lead to his fall. Only in Shakespeare’s stories you may have heard of such a quick swap taking place and so, to make the situation seem less implausible, there’s a rapid set of shots during a song sequence which inform about the research Vishal undertook before the swap – he browses the internet to look at gun models: fabulous research!
And what’s even more surprising is that nobody suspects him, neither Yashwardhan, nor Nina or his fiancé Ritu. Ajay on the other hand ‘plays Bigg Boss, Bigg Boss’ ( in his own words) with his mother at a secluded house in the fields. Speaking about Bigg Boss, a reality show I used to watch when I was young, I am reminded of a similar swap taking place in the second season of Big Boss: it took merely ten minutes for the other housemates to spot the ruse!
Aurangzeb is replete in punch-lines but there’s little subtlety and lack of meaningful exchange. Characterization is only skin-deep and so is Arjun Kapoor’s performance, but he’s only doing as he’s told. It’s Aditya Chopra who’s funding many of these projects and sadly even winning many awards in India; he’s business sense is smart (his Wikipedia page mentions he graduated from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics), but I wish he’d use his power and paisa to encourage quality productions. His production Aurangzeb has a workable premise but sadly ends up sagging with sloppy treatment. The film should fall.