Cast: Dharmendra, Vinay Pathak, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Zakir Hussain
Direction: Sriram Raghavan
Put your hands together for this week’s new release Johnny Gaddaar, director Sriram Raghavan’s delicious thriller about a gang of five cons who raise Rs two-and-a-half-crore between themselves so they can participate in a shady deal that’s going to double their investment.
A motley mix of the young and the more experienced, this gang has the perfect plan. But that plan goes horribly wrong when one of them hatches a foolproof plan of his own, and discreetly steals everyone else’s money.
It’s a job so well done, that the traitor slips right back into the gang without anyone suspecting him for the betrayal. The gang, now furious over losing their money, set out to find out who, after all, was the mastermind behind this double-cross.
Unquestionably one of the smartest films I’ve seen recently, the biggest strength of Johnny Gaddaar is its unpredictability. Unlike most conventional thrillers with a heist at its core, this one’s not a whodunit – it can’t be, because you know all along who’s done it – the question instead is, how’s he going to get away with it?
That premise of course makes for an exciting two-hour film. Only problem is, Johnny Gaddaar is well over two hours – two-and-a-half-hours to be precise – and for a nail-biting thriller, that’s just way too long.
Unfolding like a Coen Brothers film where a series of fortunate accidents or divine interventions keep the plot from ever getting mundane, Johnny Gaddaar avoids clichés and smashes stereotypes as it makes its journey from opening credits to the end.
Really the film’s biggest accomplishment is the manner in which it compels you, the viewer to think differently – midway through the film you’ve got the drift, you begin to expect the unexpected, you even begin to predict what’s going to happen next. That’s the level of involvement you’re able to muster up for this film.
To give credit where it’s due director Sriram Raghavan delivers on both style and content. Peppering his film with pop cultural references in a manner reminiscent of Tarantino’s trademark style, Raghavan pays homage to Vijay Anand and his oeuvre of pacy thrillers – Jewel Thief, Teesri Manzil and of course Johnny Mera Naam, from where Raghavan’s film derives its title.
Revelling in its unflashiness, Johnny Gaddaar is stylish in a way that other films are not – its style lies in the ordinariness of the way crimes and murders are committed in the film. No fancy slo-mo shots, no piercing sound effects, just the immediacy of desperate crime.
Raghavan scores big points on characterisation, he writes his every lead as a real, flesh-and-blood person, and then casts just the perfect actor for every role.
Dharmendra as the mastermind behind the operation, Zakir Hussain as the crass club-owner, Vinay Pathak as the smarmy card-shark, and Neil Nitin Mukesh as the rookie, the youngest member of the gang – you couldn’t find better actors to fill out these roles.
Zakir Hussain in particular, stands out with a performance that is ingenious in every sense of the word. And Neil Nitin Mukesh makes an inspired debut; he’s clearly an actor to look out for.
If there’s one problem and one problem alone with Johnny Gaddaar, it’s the fact that the screenplay slips up in the second half. The film’s about 30 minutes too long, and as a result, even the unpredictability becomes monotonous.
I’m going with three out of five and a big thumbs up for director Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar, it’s a thriller very unlike his own previous film Ek Hasina Thi, and very unlike most thrillers you’ve seen recently. Watch it because it’s that rare film that actually expects you to use your brain.
Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)