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Rustom Movie Review

Strangely bland but largely inoffensive

  | August 12, 2016 14:31 IST


<i>Rustom</i> Movie Review
  • Genre:
  • Cast:
    Akshay Kumar, Ileana D
  • Director:
    Tinu Suresh Desai

For Akshay Kumar fans, Rustom is bound to be a full-on treat. The courtroom drama is scripted, crafted and geared to give the lead actor all the space that he needs in order to own the project.

The star of the show proves equal to the task. Unfortunately, Rustom, which fictionalizes the sensational true story of naval officer Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, comes nowhere near becoming an irresistible cinematic account of a murder trial.

Written by Vipul K Rawal and directed by Tinu Suresh Desai, Rustom is a strangely bland film that throws more thematic strands into its narrative wicker basket than it can hold - heroism of a man in uniform, marital discord, culpable homicide and legal twists and turns.

An apocryphal aircraft carrier scam involving the high and mighty is added to the broth to lend the hero the sheen of a crusader.

The first time the audience sees the film's titular figure, he emerges from a naval vessel's engine room and strides out in style to the deck of the ship.

There is no way anybody can miss the national flag fluttering in the background.

The unblemished character of Commander Rustom Pavri - he is a decorated officer celebrated for his devotion to duty - remains untouched by the complexities of a bitter legal contest or the nuances of a marriage gone sour.

Not interested in exploring the frailties that the flesh is heir to, Rustom opts for a facile and melodramatic approach to the 1959 murder case.

The handsomely mounted but anodyne film plays out like a straightforward old school good-versus-evil tale in which the truly righteous are allowed a transgression or two in the face of provocation.

Every character in the film struts around like a vainglorious clothes horse. Rustom Pavri, the man in the dock, always sports his spotless white naval uniform. Even when he is off duty and in police custody, he is a picture of sartorial poise.

His stressed-out wife, despite the serious crisis in her life, is never less than impeccable in her choice of sarees and blouses.

The vamp, like all good old vamps, dons western outfits and carries a slender cigarette holder as if it were an extension of her lips, a la Marlene Dietrich.

And suave investigating officer Vincent Lobo (Pavan Malhotra, who, as always, makes an impression that rises above the weaknesses of the film) is never caught without his starched buttoned-down shirt, black tie and pleated trousers as he goes about the job of establishing Rustom's guilt.

Similarly, the physical spaces that these characters occupy do not have a real, lived-in look. Even the late 1950s Bombay street scenes, well presented as they are, cannot rescue the film from its airy-fairy, disinfected feel.

An editor of a tabloid called Truth (played by Kumud Mishra) - the character is obviously modelled on Russi Karanjia of Blitz - is an unflattering caricature of a journalist who gets hauled up on a daily basis by the judge for infringing the law.

Outside the sessions court, crowds carry completely-out-of-place placards that read "Marry me Rustom", "I love you Rustom" and "I want your baby Rustom". Are we at an IPL match or what?

Especially unexceptionable is the way the court scenes are executed. It takes the film away from the reality of the story and delivers an overacted, overstretched passage that overstays its welcome.

The public prosecutor (Sachin Khedekar) hectors and hollers his way through the hearing. The judge (Anang Desai) adds to the drama with rather vacuous wisecracks when he is not overruling or sustaining objections.

And the jury - the K.M. Nanavati vs. the State of Maharashtra case was India's last such trial by consensus - stands by dutifully until it is time for them to up the ante even further.

Everything about Rustom is overly spick and span, which does not allow cinematographer Santhosh Thundiyil to go beyond the standard light-and- shade devices.

The kernel of the story: an officer and a gentleman (Akshay Kumar) arrives home after a long absence and stumbles upon an affair that his wife (Ileana D'Cruz) is having with a wealthy social acquaintance of his (Arjun Bajwa).

The Navy man loses his cool, confronts the notorious playboy and pumps three bullets into him.

All this happens within the first twenty minutes of the film and the rest of Rustom is devoted solely to creating a halo of moral superiority around the killer.

The wife, Cynthia, trapped in a bubble of grief and remorse, mopes ceaselessly, shedding copious tears in a bid to wash away her perceived sin.

Not for once is the lady allowed to suggest, let alone assert, that what she did outside her marriage might not be the big deal it is made out to be.

In one scene, she does declare that "I don't care what people think of me." But in another, she, more in line with the moral codes she is forced to subscribe to, admits that she was "naive and stupid".

Cynthia curses herself for betraying the trust of her husband and stands by him all through the legal process.

Nature and fate play a part in Cynthia's dalliance with businessman Vikram Makhija. Her husband is out at sea and the bored wife literally slips in the rain and sprains her ankle.

Vikram, at hand to provide solace, exploits her vulnerability and the rest is inevitable.

The weakest part of Rustom is the manner in which the character of businessman Vikram Makhija is sketched out - as a scheming womanizer who is helped along by 'evil' sister Priti (Esha Gupta).

There is little room in this construct for a layered investigation of motives and impulses.

Everything is spelled out in black and white in the course of the protracted court proceedings in which the lawyer of the deceased's sister loses no opportunity to be scurrilous.

Defending himself - he refuses the services of a professional counsel - Rustom faces the allegations and insinuations without batting an eyelid.

Akshay's cool, calm, composed avatar is bound to floor many, and not just his ardent fans. There is little in this film that could displease the actor's constituency.

Rustom is largely inoffensive, even passable in the main, but could have been infinitely better had the screenplay not been so utterly conventional and unimaginative.

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