‘8×10 Tasveer’ slick blend of masala, noire cinema (IANS Film Review; Rating:***)

April 4th, 2009 - 1:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Akshay Kumar By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “8×10 Tasveer”; Cast: Akshay Kumar, Ayesha Takia, Sharmila Tagore, Javed Jaffrey, Girish Karnad, Anant Mahadevan; Director: Nagesh Kuknoor; Rating: ***

No wonder the director sent off an e-mail before the film’s release requesting that the suspense not be revealed in the reviews.

The plot of “8X10 Tasveer” unravels with such elegant dexterity that you are tempted to spill the beans. However, doing so would be a crime worse than the multiple murders attempted and achieved in this understated, gently violent and subtly tongue-in-cheek movie.

Normally Indian whodunits are so hysterical in tone you rue the day Dolby sound was invented. But Nagesh Kukunoor’s narrative uses sound to create a delectable and subtle distinction between crime and lyricism.

The characters move through a labyrinth of heightened luxury. Canada’s sun-kissed lakes and valleys open up a vista of narrative possibilities, some realised, many unexplored. Either way, the plot obtains its bridled energy from the director’s clear and present understanding of the danger that could underline the most beautiful and desirable surfaces. All you have to do is scratch.

Kukunoor definitely knows the finest suspense creators of celluloid - from Alfred Hithcock to Brian de Palma to Manoj Night Shyamalan. In these masters, Kukunoor discovers his magic and metier. He converts the history of the whodunit into a crackling currency of characters and plot-twists that make you in the audience touch the goings-on without really embracing them.

A perfunctory attitude underlines the storytelling, creating within the high level of aesthetics a murky interior where knives are used to cut the human body rather than succinct meat on the baroque dining table.

The supernatural element is used with a delicious and devilish delicacy. Believe what you will, says the director. But you have to admit that there are times when logic simply takes a backseat.

Providentially, Kukunoor keeps the supernatural element on a believable scale. Having Akshay Kumar to go into intermittent premonitory bouts helps. Akshay doesn’t fight the tides of improbability. He goes with the flow, riding the waves with a twinkle-eyed, ever-grin, sometimes grim graciousness that allows him to get real without forfeiting his heroic image.

When Akshay is not busy being self-righteous or cocky he is very likeable in this film. Without revealing the climax, it would be appropriate to say here, more than anywhere else, the gripping elements of noire cinema kiss the masala conventions of Hindi cinema in “8X10 Tasveer”. It’s a heady brew cooked at an even temperature that reaches the boiling point without bubbling over.

Kukunoor is unarguably an adept storyteller. His triumph with the whodunit is manifested in delicate details that draw inspiration from the masters of the murder mystery and yet re-define the culture of filmed crime in a language that is derived from the director’s own sensibilities.

The film could have made its end-game a little less wedded to Hindi cinema’s formulistic conventions. But the concession to commercialism doesn’t compromise the suspenseful equilibrium of a canvas where a family photograph speaks a thousand words.

The film’s quiet, restrained rhythm of expression is palpable.

You can’t miss the artery of understatement even when that gloved hand with the knife gleams on the polished exterior. That is when we begin to see what the film wants to do. It takes the whodunit into a land of murderous silences.

Greed underlines the crime. But the director is not greedy. He refrains from reaching out for all the armoury of the suspense genre. For telling us that less can be more even in a whodunit Kukunoor and his leading man must be applauded.

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