Blackmail Review

Ever seen a film that handpicks various necessary elements and later goes royally bland in writing and execution? Closer home, imagine that over-enthusiastic cooking experiment of yours with the best of veggies and a bestseller cookery book for aid. Well, Abhinay Deo is that rookie chef and Blackmail is an attempt akin to an exquisite oriental dish. The filmmaker’s failure in the black comedy genre is surprising as his directorial debut Delhi Belly was flat-out zany and was instantly lapped up by the erstwhile unadventurous film lovers in India.

Blackmail boasts of an ensemble cast in which majority are blackmailers for reasons best known to them. Dev Kaushal (Irrfan) forms the story’s pivot and the film wants us to take his side – which is fine but as a result of this disposition, several of the film’s intriguing characters go absent for long stretches. The writing force-fits the ‘blackmailer’ label to each cast member and some of these peripheral characters are way too generic and unexciting [the private detective] while some are laughably devoid of motives [the attractive female colleague of Dev]. Now that’s about the people in the film but we also need to dissect if Blackmail wanted to be a pure genre piece or an unconventional Bollywood masala where the focus is solely on the hero’s journey.

Upon looking at Blackmail as a classic black comedy archetype, one finds that the film is way too procedural to qualify as one. The screenplay chooses excess exposition over uninhibited, madcap situations. Plus, with a set of characters that barely exhibit any quirks, the film dismisses the genre it wants to belong to. The filmmaking approach is clinical and the severe lack of style in Deo’s narrative buildup doesn’t go unnoticed either. So much so that the accidental murders and other ancillary crimes come out as unfortunate events rather. We regret that the characters had to die for whatsoever reasons. Now, this ought to be the ideal reaction to a routine drama feature as opposed to one belonging to this specific genre. There’s no chuckle, no smirk that the film elicits. There is no single laugh-out-loud moment, barring the side-track involving the protagonist’s boss (Omi Vaidya, typecast for the zillionth time). This track, in any case, doesn’t contribute much to the actual blackmail trail that the film follows and the bit humour that it contains gets eclipsed if we take the full picture into account. The film also tries to get into a pure crime drama zone with a top cop confronting Dev and this is precisely the moment that seals the deal for Blackmail.

One can easily notice how Irrfan tries to rescue this bizarre, tiring film. There are repetitive sequences of blackmails with the camera chronicling the process of demanding and collecting of the ransom amount. It is almost as if we are being forcefully shown the CCTV footage of an event which didn’t require so much spoon-feeding in the first place. Other than the somewhat interestingly penned Dev, the characters and their unidimensional traits jar to the hilt. One must also observe how Arunoday Singh tends to make the most of this opportunity but we so wish his character has had finer nuances. The women – Divya Dutta and Kirti Kulhari – suffer from the same writing anomaly and it doesn’t help that they are given limited screen time.

As I exited the auditorium, I genuinely felt bad for each character in the film. The ones who were killed, wronged and even the man who emerges victorious in the end. It is just one of those films which do not want itself to be taken seriously but the audience, sadly, does. Because it ain’t really a choice and there’s no material to chuckle at in any case.

Rating: ★★