The baton has been passed to a new generation, but they still seem to be stirring the same old sex- sleaze-and-suspense pot at Vishesh Films.
But don’t let that put you off. Familiarity does have its uses, especially when it comes thickly coated with a few agreeable surprises.
Murder 3, a thriller that vacillates between the taut to the toxic, packs enough punch and panache to keep the audience glued, if not sweep them off their feet.
It tweaks the formula just a tad – it goes somewhat easy on the erotic component of the Murder franchise, opts for a markedly stronger emotional spine, and gives the female characters more than usual space. And there are no maniacs on the prowl.
As a result, the twisted thriller does not feel half as manipulative as the first two films in the series.
If nothing else, Murder 3 has a busy plot that keeps ticking at an even keel. Even the less convincing moments in the film are not allowed to linger longer than is absolutely necessary.
As for the plot, recognizable ingredients are crammed into a characteristically overstuffed storyline that probes the dark, obsessive side of love and lust.
Murder 3 has plenty of visual flair, but at times all its labour might seem wasted on a tale that strains too hard for effect. It is steamy all right but tends to run out of steam at crucial junctures.
The overall structure, borrowed (officially) from a Colombian thriller (The Hidden Face), is shaky, and the surface of the edifice is marred by a deep layer of crumbly rust.
No amount of style can fully offset the lack of constancy in this creaky and derivative construct.
A fashion and wildlife photographer (Randeep Hooda) is dumped by his architect-girlfriend (Aditi Rao Hydari).
On the rebound, he forges a new relationship with a barmaid (Sara Loren) who drives him home after he has had a few pegs too many to drown his sorrow.
The woodwork of the Raj-era bungalow that the shutterbug lives in hides a dark secret.
The man’s ex-girlfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared without a trace, returns to hound the lovers.
The rest is mayhem that turns worse for the duo with each turn of the screw.
The film resorts to all the known tropes of the genre - rattling windows, hissing drainpipes, waves in the bathtub, sudden power outages and swaying chimeras in the shadows. Mercifully, there are no curtains billowing in the wind.
For all its flaws, Murder 3 is most certainly not a film in hopeless freefall. Its lapses are at worst momentary.
Debutant director Vishesh Bhatt, son of producer Mukesh and nephew of writer Mahesh, does his very best to stamp his own style on the proceedings.
He succeeds up to a point, aided primarily by unblemished cinematography by Sunil Patel, a noteworthy background score by Raju Singh, and competent lead performances.
In the first half, Murder 3 is a bit like a haunted house drama. A sinister air hangs over the male protagonist's home and the new woman in his life is frightened out of her wits.
Unfortunately, the fear factor is never more than superficial and it rarely evokes a shudder.
The second half, devoted to the unravelling of the mystery of the missing lady, has a largely mechanical feel until the shock ending salvages the package.
With an actor like Randeep Hooda heading the cast, one thing that the audience can be absolutely sure of is a subtly modulated performance capable of restoring order amid the chaos.
Hooda may not yet possess the star power of an Emraan Hashmi – that is more a reflection on the Mumbai movie industry and the audience than on the actor himself – but is endowed with a smouldering screen presence that burns itself indelibly into the film’s texture.
He plunges into the cesspool of lies, jealousy and betrayal with the sort of effortless conviction that lends the drama a certain degree of firmness even as it wobbles through its many precarious lows.
Hooda is well complemented by an equally good Aditi Rao Hydari, who etches out a tormented woman with just the right measure of fire and brimstone. She conveys a wide range of emotions without having to break into a sweat.
Sara Loren, as the unwanted angle in the love triangle, pales a tad in comparison, but to her credit, rises above the limitations of the script even when only half a chance comes her way.
Murder 3 delivers no grand moments in terms of either style or substance. But the director makes a game effort to give the franchise a makeover, no matter how cosmetic it may appear.
Murder 3 announces the advent of a director who clearly has the chops to make infinitely better films.
New wine in an old bottle but not too bad.