(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
Vijit Sharma’s Mirror Game – Ab Khel Shuru begins with opening credits playing over life size chess boards. We see words related to psychiatry and mental health that unscramble to reveal the actual credits. In a lot of places, it is apparent that Sharma (who is also the writer) has thought things through. This is not a whodunit that goes from A to B to C in a laundry list fashion that we’ve seen a million times before. It’s not great and the reveal is not shocking either. But it is the way Sharma situates the politics of this sparsely populated thriller that turns out most rewarding in Mirror Game.
Dr. Jay Verma (Parvin Dabas) is a professor at Valley State University and it takes only a few frames to establish that he specializes in psychiatry, is in an unhappy marriage and possibly undergoing therapy for depression. He refuses to give in to a divorce even when his wife (Shanti Akkineni as Tanya Verma) repeatedly brings up the idea, and also suspects her of having an affair. A new student (Dhruv Bali as Ronnie Bhanot) approaches Jay, requesting him to be his thesis adviser with Jay acting hard to get and reluctant at first, and then turning the tables in completely unexpected ways. Mirror Game also reflects Hindi cinema of another time with actors like Parvin Dabas and Pooja Batra making themselves visible in relevant roles.
Films like Mirror Game have their downfall already etched into their DNA – all the science and the associated buzzwords. But the film doesn’t go too deep into it. It does throw words and equations into the mix but they are used in interesting ways to tell what is fairly a simple story. Sharma contrasts beautiful spring time New Jersey that decorates the film with the inner turmoil that every character is going through in his film. We first think Jay’s depression has something to do with his troubled marriage but only later we find out about the troubled past in his profession. When we first see Detective Shenoy (Sneha Ramachander), she is in a session with her lawyer, and her soon to be ex-husband and his lawyer. In fact, we don’t even know who she is and what is her profession. Sharma gives her character a cold opening. But we find out she loves her job and it could be one of the reasons for her failing marriage. This is a strand that might seem inconsequential but Sharma is very determined. His is a world where men are scum and women try to rise above it all. Like the real world. Jay cannot stand that his wife might be having an affair and he says if he gives in to divorce, that means the paramour wins. Shenoy is frustrated that the men in her department get all the interesting cases and she’s left with missing persons. She even takes it up with the chief and refers to her work environment as “male infested shark tank”. It’s not a coincidence that the whodunit in Mirror Game involves a missing woman, couple of male suspects, and both, the detective handling the case and the doctor treating Jay on the request of the police, are women. Sharma’s film does not have the traditional kinetics of a whodunit. It ambles along in its own pace and the plot is mostly mechanical. All the joy is in how Sharma sculpts his pieces.