A take off from the sensational Nanavati murder case of 1959, Tinu Suresh Desai’s Rustom makes a huge mess of one of India’s landmark cases.
It was a case that not only scandalized the Nation, it led to the abolishing of the jury system in India. It had it all, a handsome dutiful naval officer, the beautiful adulteress wife who cheated on him with his close friend, and a murder and subsequent trial that rocked India’s judicial system. The Nanavati murder case was bound to catch the attention of the film world and sure enough, well before Rustom, it found its echoes in at least two Hindi films, Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963) and Achanak (1973). Besides the two films, it also helped to create the period of Bombay in the late 1950s and 60s in Anurag Kashyap’s epic misfire, Bombay Velvet (2015), through the song, Sylvia.
For those interested, the real life events that shocked yet riveted the entire country went something like this. Away for long periods of time on work, naval officer Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanvati found out his British wife, Sylvia, was involved with his friend Prem Ahuja. This led to Nanavati shooting Ahuja and surrendering to the police. There was a sensational trail with much media defense for ‘patriotic’ officer Nanavati and the jury at the Bombay Sessions Court agreed with the defense’s argument that Nanavati was provoked into killing Ahuja and declared him not guilty. The presiding judge, however, declared the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the high court, where the prosecution successfully managed to show it was premeditated murder and got Nanavati sentenced for life. With much support and contacts in high places and a pardon finally granted from Ahuja’s sister, Nanavati was finally released after 3 years in prison, and migrated with Sylvia and their children to Canada, where he died in 2003.
In spite of all its multi-layered, volatile base material, the film adaptations based on the case have fallen short. While one could understand YRHPK‘s diluted approach due to the uptight moralities of India of the 1960s, one cannot condone Rustom, for the same. The film, barring following some of the key events of the case, fails to understand its very essence, its social and historic contexts or even an iota of its many complexities. What you are left is with a shallow whiter-than-white and blacker-than-black film that adds in a totally unnecessary patriotic track. This kills the already dying film as it tries to justify its hero’s action, thereby making him even more uni-dimensional.
If the extremely weak writing with some terribly stilted (English) dialogue and a sensationalist soap opera approach don’t help, the dumbing down treatment and the overtly bad performances of the cast are the final nails in the film’s coffin. True, the actors are severely handicapped by being written as wafer thin cardboard cutouts but none of them including lead man Akshay Kumar are able to rise above the script. Kumar, in no imagination a Parsi, is awfully deadpan and ever so painfully noble while Ileana D’Cruz simpers and does little else. Arjan Bajwa comes across as a cheap romeo rather than the charming playboy rogue while Pavan Malhotra and Sachin Khedekar respond with perhaps their weakest ever acts. Esha Gupta, in particular, is so terribly bad that she’s laughably good for all her ‘femme fatale’ posturing. The Russi Karanjia character – played here by Kumud Mishra – and the crucial role played by Blitz in swaying public opinion towards Nanavati is treated as moronic and cartoonish with his running gag like that of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. Needless to say, Karanjia must be doing somersaults in his grave.
If at all anything works, then admittedly some of the courtroom drama does have its playing to the gallery moments and they work in their own corny way. The technicalities and the production design don’t add much to the film while the special effects are badly done. It’s running length of 150 minutes too tells ploddingly on both, the film and the viewer. And the less said on the truly awful and highly intrusive background score, the better.
All in all, Rustom just has almost nothing going for it and fails to do any sort of justice to its otherwise meaty subject. It is, to say the least, a huge misfire and little else.
Hindi, Drama, Color