A mission impossible forms the crux of Nikhil Advani's D-Day. But the film's treatment of the story of derring-do, desperate measures and doom remains firmly within the realms of the possible. The director deserves full marks on that score.
D-Day is as far removed in terms of spirit and substance from Advani's debut feature and biggest success, Kal Ho Naa Ho, as any film could ever be. At any rate, it represents a marked improvement on Salaam-e-Ishq, Chandni Chowk to China and Patiala House.
Filmed predominantly in smoky, dimly lit spaces in what is supposed to be the Pakistani port city of Karachi, D-Day is cast in the mould of a realistic action thriller. It is also, however, a tale of thwarted love and shattered lives, the pathos of which is sought to be underlined by a slew of magnificent songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
As a crime drama, it works perfectly well, helped along by some high quality acting by the likes of Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan and Huma Qureshi.However, the love story between an Indian spy and Pakistani prostitute is rather half-baked and pushes the film into an avoidable vendetta sub-plot.
To be fair, there is indeed much going for D-Day. The film is completely fictional, but it stays rooted in the geopolitical reality of the subcontinent, allowing itself only the occasional shot at dramatic license in order to buoy up the narrative.
Moreover, the undercover RAW operatives at the heart of the story aren't run-of-the-mill Hindi movie heroes given to displays of false machismo in the face of adversity.
The world of espionage here is marked by grit and grime, and the scalded characters neither live in fancy settings nor carry flashy guns and gizmos.
D-Day is a well-researched, purposefully executed film. Much of the action takes places in 'actual' Karachi locations - the red light district of Napier Road, the busy thoroughfare of Empress Market and the environs of Qasim Port, among others.
The villain of the film is a fugitive from Indian law and has the active support of the intelligence establishment across the border, but the Pakistani figures in the plot aren't tarred with the same brush. They aren't all black.
Nor are the people on the Indian side sought to be passed off as completely free of blame in this long, costly battle of attrition between the two neighbours.
As part of a covert operation, the Indian spies play cat-and-mouse games not only with their foes, but also with each other.
They are committed to "honour, duty and country" above all else, but one of the men - the most hot-headed among them - refers to these virtues as three of their biggest weaknesses.
When they are in danger of being captured in Pakistan after a botched operation, their bosses in Delhi are all too willing to bail out and disown them.
The sly jabs at the powers-that-be are extended to the portrayal of a Prime Minister who is constantly either summoned or given instructions to on the phone by somebody referred to merely as "Madam".
To return to the narrative, a quartet of Indian secret agents is in Karachi to nab 'India's Most Wanted', a character who is obviously modelled on Dawood Ibrahim and goes by the unlikely name of Goldman (Rishi Kapoor).
But D-Day is not Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, and the four agents -- three men and a woman - who have been placed in the thick of the action by an unflappable RAW chief, Ashwini Rao (Nasser), do not strut around spouting vacuously patriotic lines.
The lynchpin of Operation Goldman is Wali Khan (Irrfan), who infiltrated Pakistan nine years ago and now lives in a nondescript Karachi neighbourhood with a wife and a son.
He is joined by a laconic and mysterious suspended army man Rudra Pratap Singh (Arjun Rampal), explosives expert Zoya Rehman (Huma Qureshi), who has flown in from London, and Aslam (Aakash Dahiya), a petty criminal picked off the streets of Mumbai.
Apart from the dynamics of the plan to bring the all-powerful Goldman to book, the film focuses on inter-departmental RAW politics as well as the contradictions that exist within the power structure of Pakistan's ISI.
The back stories and the emotional compulsions of the secret agents form a significant component of the storyline. Unfortunately, these strands are not always emotionally engaging, as a result of which they drag the film down a bit.
Wali loves his son to distraction and is constantly under pressure to choose between line of duty and his commitment to his family.
Rudra develops a strong bond with Suraiya (Shruti Haasan), a sex worker with a scarred face. He goes after the man responsible for the attack on the girl. Matters get worse as Goldman's nephew (Chandan Roy Sanyal) decides to settle scores.
Zoya, on her part, has sacrificed her marriage to join this operation. The audience does not see her husband, only hears him (voice: Raj Kumar Yadav) as he struggles to reconnect with her but in vain.
D-Day is replete with such unusual touches. It is another matter that all of them do not eventually come together to make a cohesive whole. Yet, for all its flaws, this is a film good enough to merit a trip to the multiplex.