Nishikant Kamat is very old school in the sense that he is one of those rare current generation directors who keeps churning out films at such a quick pace that it is no wonder the film that put him on the map is called Dombivali Fast. Some of them are remakes but still he had Drishyam last year, Rocky Handsome this year and he is back again with Madaari. Madaari’s trope too is old school and something that has been beaten to death with in the south more than the north. It is a common man as vigilante narrative which does throw you back to his first film, Dombivali Fast, but things were at a micro level there. We were interested in the shocking transformation of a single man in that film. Here, it is all macro that might remind you of several vigilante mixed with political scam films in Tamil and Telugu.
Kamat begins with that overused is-it-ironic-or-is-it-unironic-cannot-really-tell shot of an over the top news broadcaster talking about the state of the nation. This started at least ten years ago (I remember seeing it in Delhi-6 but quite sure examples before that exist) and refuses to die. Maybe it is because how we, as a nation, keep reinventing television media styles and personalities that there is always an instantly recognizable face or entity to project our object of ridicule, the country and its politics and corruption, onto. The Home Minister’s son is kidnapped and we are treated to jokes about how is he the one bestowed with the task of taking care of the nation – from opposition, from people around him, from media etc. A trusted officer is made head of investigations – Nachiket Verma (Jimmy Shergill) – and his only plan of action is to avoid everything that will give panic attacks to the kidnapper. Kamat’s characters are all one note – the socialist home minister, the openly corrupt party man, the prime minister, the I-give-a-damn-about-authority investigative officer. In trying to make his protagonist a common man, everyone else ends up being cut out of cardboard.
Irrfan as Nirmal Kumar is probably the only one who is self-aware that this is a film we have already seen. Kamat is kinda-sorta trying a companion piece to A Wednesday here and he gives Irrfan some smart-aleck lines about which story is bad but easy to believe and which one is good but hard to believe. He even teases you with some shots and helpfully rewinds them for you. But where is the wild goose chase? Or where is the cat and mouse chase? There is nothing to make your palms sweat here. There is one good shot where we see Nirmal’s elaborate plan being hatched in a different timeline and Nachiket entering that scene uncut, but only we have moved back to the present. Nachiket is never one up on Nirmal. We never get the feeling that Nirmal was always one up on Nachiket. It’s all too easy for both of them. In between all this we are supposed to care for the Stockholm Syndrome developing between Nirmal and Rohan (Vishesh Bansal).
But it is Irrfan who scrambles to hold it all together. He is great as the single parent trying to come to terms with his son’s demise when he is not sure how to express his emotions. Much later he is again in an empty hospital and he breaks down but the boy with him was only admitted for stomach pain. Irrfan has this tremendous ability to switch between moods even as the tone of the scene remains the same. Sadly, Nishikant Kamat cannot catch up.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)