'Chehre' Review: The face of inanity
Rumy Jafry’s 'Chehre' doesn’t know what it essentially wants to be—a mystery, a courtroom drama, a moral science lesson, a vigilante saga or a political speech
If I were to review Rumy Jafry’s Chehre in emoticons—which is easier than doing so in words—I would keep switching between an eye-roll and the facepalm, while the aimless film itself keeps hopping from one scene to another without any sense of purpose or coherence. It doesn’t know what it essentially wants to be—a mystery, a courtroom drama, a moral science lesson, a vigilante saga or a political speech. In the process of trying to be all of this, it ends up becoming nothing more than a slapdash script, a rusty narrative and a film that is laughable in its sheer inanity. Cinema way past its best by date.
It kicks off with a long poem, recited by Amitabh Bachchan in his oft praised baritone, that talks tediously about how faces will survive despite bodies perishing. Meanwhile, long after having seen the film, I am still scratching my head over the connect between the verse and what follows.
Cut to some strange place in the mountains that is supposedly just 280 odd kilometres from Delhi but where it’s snowing as much as it would in Aomori in Japan. This wonder of a Fargo-like landscape becomes even more wondrous with the entry of a dude called Sameer Mehra (Emraan Hashmi) whose journey to the Capital in the BMW gets curtailed when a tree falls on the road. There is no one around other than copious amounts of snow and a seemingly adventurous old sardarji called Paramjeet Bhullar (Annu Kapoor) who seems habituated to going on long walks to his friend’s place in the thick of such perilous blizzards. I am not going to question the sense and sensibility in Mr Bhullar’s walks in the snow because what I am still unable to get over is Sameer’s extraordinary query to Mr Bhullar just seconds after the fall of the tree: Who will remove the tree? Perhaps the snow itself, I felt like telling the petulant, impatient and blind-to-his-surroundings bloke.
Cut now to a huge haveli in the middle of nowhere, peopled by strange creatures, with no mobiles and a landline that is dead. Signs screaming *danger* in film after film, since times immemorial. Yawn! The smart dude of a hero will, however, find nothing amiss.
So we are now introduced to the sophisticated, chess playing owner of the palace called Jagdish Acharya (Dhritimaan Chatterjee) on the one hand and an unsophisticated flute player Hariya Jatav (Raghubir Yadav) on the other. There is a stone-faced Joe who I felt was a Shakti Kapoor lookalike. Turns out he is indeed played by his son Siddhant. Then there’s a perennially teary-eyed and red-nosed Anna, played by Rhea Chakraborty, kept conveniently out of any publicity for the film. Incidentally, Anna is an artiste at heart who paints blood-splattered canvases that remind our dude Sameer of the works of Andy Warhol. Forget eye roll, the comparison made my eyes pop out of their sockets. I have been researching the pop art of Warhol since then to somehow see the likeness but haven’t been able to, at the time of going to press. But wait, Sameer gifts Anna two butterfly toys in fluorescent green, that could perhaps be called Warholian for the lack of any choice in this matter. These bright butterflies make Anna break into inexplicable paroxysm of glee which would require a separate 2000-word analysis of its own. I will attempt that another day because there’s more which deserves attention.
Ok, so cut now to the big entry—Latif Zaidi (Amitabh Bachchan), a shayar (finally now you spot the connect with the face-body poem in the prelude) who ties up his beard with a rubberband into a ponytail. Style statement or otherwise, this distinctive but pointless pony of his kept appealing to the latent shaver in me. Throughout the 130 odd minutes of the film, I was wielding these invisible scissors to somehow cut it off.
Now Zaidi and friends are in the habit of playing a game to kill time. They conduct mock trials and serve justice for crimes and misdemeanor to random strangers who readily park themselves in the haveli. Sameer is coaxed into reenacting a case. He agrees but only after changing from his wet trousers into the crisp and dry ones of the guy who had previously played the same game. The daft dude is barely curious about what could have happened to his predecessor. Did he arbitrarily walk away trouser-less in the snow?
What follows is a way too wordy, static and stagy show that kept bringing in whiffs of somnolence into the multiplex and I would have readily given in to the matinee siesta were it not for the double dose of discomfort of wearing two masks.
Anyhow, sangria flows, some tragic events from Anna’s life are spoken of and the unseemly side of Sameer’s life—involving objects like a whip and a sex clip—is probed into, which enables the hemmed in viewer to travel, through flashbacks, away from the snowed out haveli to an expansive farmhouse and golf course, even as some sufi number that talks very pertinently of, what else but sufiyana ishq, plays on in the background.
Cut to a debate on crime and punishment which makes way for Zaidi’s tortuously long and righteous speech on trying to seek justice in life as opposed to the judgments passed off by the courts. All this by using the violation of a daughter and the consequent pain of a mother as the opening arguments.
Till this point the film was turning out unwittingly comic in its sheer absurd arbitrariness. The pontification, however, left me feeling disgusted. With injustices piling on day in and day out against women, Muslims, Dalits and the minorities and in the midst of a coopted police and crumbling law and order situation, the high-falutin words ring empty. More so when they are patronizingly targeted at the common people that are at the receiving end of atrocities than the entitled perpetrators. Hollow, pompous phrases inspired from and devotedly imitating the jumlas and bombast that have been dominating the political discourse of late. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Virtue signaling that we are better off without.