Review: A penny for Johnny

29 September, 2007


Take a little James Hadley Chase. A pinch of Alistair Mclean. Take a slice from Papillon. Take a few chunks off Sin City. Sprinkle a little Hitchcock. Garnish it with shredded Tarantino. Shove all of this in a mud oven, and cook it really slow. Let it go black; no, really charred at the corners. Take it out while its still bubbling, red hot, and put it on the table. Donít forget to put an ample supply of burning coals under it. And yeah, secure yourself with a seatbelt. Johnny Gaddar is served.

Ok, this officially becomes the second movie after 300, which delivered what the promos promised. The promos had been playing again and again, for over two months now, and I was really intrigued. So, I went with a lot of apprehension, almost expecting a let down, and was pleasantly shocked. From the first scene itself, forget the first scene, from the moment the starting titles started rolling in, I knew this was going to be a great movie. Large white lettering over a really dark background, with a dash of red works. It really does.

Vikram (Neil Mukesh - sharp profile, drooping eyes, ruffled hair, blonde stubble, a soft voice, and a very expressionless expression, he is your regular cold-blooded killer) is a young boy with get-quick-rich schemes in his mind, and works with a gang which deals in non-violent activities (smuggling and such.)

This gang is headed by Sheshadri (Dharmendra Ė after many years its good to see him NOT slurring) who listens to his long-dead wifeís voice-recording every now and then, had old-school gangster values, and the other gang members respect and fear him.

The other gang members include Shardul (Zakir Hussain - one the best character actors we have today, VERY convincing), Prakash (Vinay Pathak, does not need an introduction), and Shiva (The mammoth man from C.I.D, I missed the name, sorry).

Vikram is having a torrid affair with Shardulís wife (Rimi Sen, I am still undecided about her, but she looks very pretty regardless), and of course Shardul does not know it.

All is going well in gangland, till an offer is made to the gang. They are supposed to provide rupees 2.5 crores to Kalyan (Govind Namdeo, WOW!), who in turn will provide them with some goods (we donít know what goods), which our gang is supposed to quickly sell off, and make a nice profit. In order to do that, each member must put in 50 lakhs from their own pocket. After some minor hiccups, the money is collected, and the gang is looking
forward to make some easy, quick money. And this is exactly when a thought strikes Vikram Ė what if he can get away with the entire sum? And this is where the fun begins.

Obviously, I am not going to give any details about the plot, since there is no plot, it is a series of events, which happen in quick succession; each even depending on the last one, in true James Hadley Chase fashion. So, I implore everyone who is reading this review to go and watch the movie quickly, before it is off the theatres.

I had very high expectations from director Shreeram Raghavan (who previously made the excellent Ek Hasina Thi), and he lived up to the expectations. The man has a keen eye for details. And he doesnít overdo anything. His characters and situations in the movie are not loud, they fit in with the storyline, and there are no jarring moments. There is a long sequence shot inside a moving train, and it is so real, that it actually takes you there. OK, even if it was not shot in a real train, they made a damn realistic set.

There are crowd scenes, and yes, the people do turn around to look, but the editing is crisp, and the do not end up looking at the camera and start waving and smiling. There are scenes in nightclubs, but the camera does not play with bare bellies, midriffs, or obnoxious looking gentlemen, instead; it keeps them out of focus, and in the background where they are supposed to be.

Neil Mukesh as the protagonist shines through and through. He does not need to emote too much for two reasons: 1) It is a crime thriller. 2) He has
that kind of face. His really sharp profile is used brilliantly by the cameraman Ė mostly half-lit Ė and a sly smile lurking just around the corner. He does show a lot of potential, though his voice is somewhat soft, but that could be the genes. But yes, if he promises to keep that stubble on, and not do chocolate boy roles, he can go a long, long way Ė guaranteed!

Dharmendra, as I said before does not slur through his dialogues. Mercifully, the director did not involve him in any fight sequences. He was just told to stick on the moustache, and look serene, and bossy at the same time, and he succeeds. Yes, I have a problem with him speaking some English lines, and there is a good reason for that: he comes from a solid Jatsikh background, and he speaks like that, regardless of what he is saying. So naming him Sheshadri, and then listen to him speak in that accent is kind of weird. But yeah, thatís a minor thing, and otherwise he is a pleasure to watch as delivers the old Dharmendra style.

Vinay Pathak is getting better. His comic timing is perfect, his dialogue delivery is perfect, and he sticks to the accent throughout, and makes you smile whenever he comes on screen. He plays a gambling-den owner, and acts like a true lowlife with class. He is perfectly complimented by his wife, played by Ashwini Kalsekar (she of the large eyes, numerous TV serials) as the owner of a small-time beauty parlor, a devoted but nagging wife. The
chemistry between them is real, and unmistakable.

Zakir Hussain is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. Throw any role at him, and he makes it come alive. He plays this sleazy club owner, who auditions girls in the afternoon, ogles at them openly, even makes crude comments about women, but is otherwise faithful to his wife who hates his
guts. His lecherous look is not overdone, his clothes are just right, and his mannerisms (rise of an absolute lowlife to a rich lowlife) are perfect.

Govind Namdeo surprised me after a long time. The last time he did this was when he played a Muslim leader in Satta. He as the corrupt and an extremely violent, but principled cop from Bangalore is perfectly chosen. And he gets everything right. The slight but not missable southie accent, the bushy moustache, the perfect hairstyle, and the swagger in his walk which comes after years of being an overtly cautious cop (only duty, no beauty) is a study in how a mean, calculating, corrupt cop should be played.

Rimi Sen has nothing much to do in the movie other than look extremely hot, teary eyed, and scared, since it is a male-oriented movie. But she does it well anyway. I feel bad for her because she is not untalented, but hasnít got enough chances to prove herself, except coming in half-baked comedies and look glamorous.

Overall, what catches the eye in Johnny Gaddar is the attention to detail. There are a lot of indoor scenes in the movie, and the director obviously visited such places and maybe even photographed them for reference. For example, Vinay Pathakís seedy den is littered with cheap furniture (no the
usual collapsible kind mind you, but REAL furniture). The patrons in the den are busy gambling, and the camera does not linger on any one of them. His office has this big, tacky mandir with gaudy lights, and every god and goddess in place. There is no carpet inside, and his table is a mess, littered with decks of playing cards, newspapers, and bill books. The walls are chipped, and almost sagging from years of moisture. Very, very real.

So no, this movie is not Satya. If I am allowed to say it, it is better than Satya in many ways. Yes. They are two very different movies, but the only
difference here is that none of the characters are glamorized, they have very specific for-the-moment lives. Money is the central character here, and
everyone is after it. There are no shenanigans about honor and such, only the pure and naked lust for money. There is a love angle too, but it is only secondary. Yes, it is a gangster-type movie, but it is not about gangs and how they go about their details, since there is no need for it, and the director knows it too.

No, this does not claim to be an overtly intelligent movie, the director made sure of it. The script is coherent, and easy to understand, and there are no
subplots - only sudden unexpected events, which change the course of the story as it progresses, like a snake moving on a rocky path (though I canít
explain why a snake would do a stupid thing like that, but thatís what came to my mind).

Johnny Gaddar is not a brilliant movie. Itís an AWESOME movie! Do go watch it before it goes off the theatres, since we all know what happens to awesome movies (Manorama Six feet Under, Blue Umbrella) in this country. As for me, I am going to watch it again, AND buy the DVD when it comes out. This is is definitely for keeps.




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