Bollywood and film noir are rarely mentioned in the same breath. For the uninitiated, film noir is a term used to describe low key crime dramas filled with moral ambiguity and sexual motivation( definition courtesy Wikipedia). Johnny Gaddar is a perfect example of this genre, conceived and shot so stylishly that one is tempted to believe that is a frame-by-frame lift from a Hollywood product.
That may be doing a real injustice to director Sriram Raghavan, who was also responsible for Ek Hasina Thi, the taut thriller starring Saif Ali Khan and Urmila Matondkar. Ek Hasina Thi was gripping, well directed and acted and showed the director’s predilections for crime dramas.
Johnny Gaddar, as the name suggests, is about a member of the 5-man gang who gets greedy when he has the opportunity to abscond with 2.5 crores in cash. How the plan goes horribly wrong is the subject of the movie.
Sriram Raghavan’s affection for previous Bollywood movies that have attempted takes on the noir genre is evident in the many references the movie makes to other classics. There’s Parwana, a 1971 movie starring Amitabh in a negative role, which provides the treacherous Vikram with the method to create an alibi. There’s Johhny Mera Naam which is playing in the background during a key moment in the film and gives Vikram his crime pseudonym. The movie is also dedicated to Vijay Anand, who also directed thrillers like Jewel Thief and Teesri Manzil.
The film begins on a dark and stormy night with an unknown character being shot to death as a police van is making the rounds of Mumbai. The rest of the movie is a flashback that slowly but surely brings us to the denouement laid out in the first few minutes.
Johnny Gaddar does not boast any particularly well known current stars. Dharmendra, whose career appears to be getting resurrected, gives a restrained performance as the wise leader of the gang. Vinay Pathak, who is better known for his comedic roles and his job as a co-anchor on Ranvir,Vinay aur Kaun, gives this serious role an excellent interpretation. All the other actors give terrific and subtle performances, including the women who orbit the gang members’ lives. Neil Nitin Mukesh, who is Mukesh’s grandson, plays the Gaddar. He is mostly wooden-faced but this does not detract from the movie as his character’s motivations require him to be impassive as his world is crumbling around him.
Shankar Ehsaan, Loy come up with a cool electronic, techno funk score for the movie but the songs only appear in snatches as background music. At no time does the score intrude on the movie’s pacing.
This is a seriously stylish movie where I was not tempted for a single moment to reach for the remote and fast forward any scene. It is also a complex, intelligent movie that you have to pay close attention to if you want to follow the plot. As such, this makes it an almost sure flop and I understand it did not do well in its theatrical release. However, I urge movie lovers to pick it up on DVD. Currently only pirated versions are available in the US and if your conscience prickles, I suggest you put it on a to-watch list or your Netflix queue.
Not recommended for kids because of content and violence.