Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Stoneman Murders : A review

First things first – I rarely miss anything that has Kay Kay Menon in it since he is such an accomplished performer. Be it the obsessed brother in ‘Sarkar’ or the relentless cop in ‘Black Friday’ or the revolutionary hippie rebel in ‘Hazaron kwaayishen aisi’, the man sinks his naturally gifted teeth into each of his characters with a chameleon-like finesse. An attribute which is by itself worth an appreciative nod. Hence, when I heard of this rather low-publicized venture called ‘The Stoneman Murders’ I told myself the only reason I would ever be inclined to watch a movie with Arbaaz Khan in it (!) would be if something else – no, let me rephrase it – something a lot else was in it too. In this case, as it turned out, Kay Kay was that much needed boost of ample amplification.

‘The Stoneman Murders’ follows a storyline that was quite infamously making the rounds in the early 80s about mysterious killings of pavement dwellers in the pit of a dark night’s belly by an unknown killer who used large stones – some as heavy as up to 30 kilograms in weight! – to silence off the snoozing unfortunates. Although it is said that this case was never solved – which is what is officially documented in real life – the movie however stitches a plot around this series and decides to pepper it with some Kay Kay magic. Now, while I am not sure why Arbaaz Khan would feature in such a venture, I was eventually not too bothered by it given that the role was ironically tailor-made for the wooden faced performer who still seems to believe that acting is a genetic thing. Be that as it may, his presence as the emotionless police officer Kedaar takes back seat as a hot blooded and kick-happy cop Sanjay (Kay Kay) belts out a no-nonsense portrayal of a man who doesn’t take BS from anyone. This furious attitude of his slips out of hand one day when he accidentally kills a man in judicial custody. Needless to say, Mr. Hot Head is suspended while Mr. Emotionless takes charge. Given his reputation of being an excellent officer, Sanjay’s senior (Vikram Gokhale in a very clichéd character) manages to give the man the assignment of tracking down this mystery killer who seems to strike every Tuesday and Saturday. With the timely aid of a reluctant constable Daawle (Virendra Saxena), Sanjay heads off to seek and hunt down the stoneman.

A few leads take him to a strange taxi driver called Mohammed who becomes the prime suspect initially. But with some jarring domestic altercations with the wife and some disturbing run-ins with the stoneman, Sanjay is convinced that the killer knows he is being tracked and would go to any extent to save himself. This suddenly takes a twist such that Sanjay finds himself becoming the target of everyone’s suspicion given his very convenient appearances every time a fresh murder takes place in the slumbering streets of an ignorant city. In fact, Kedaar and some constables actually catch Sanjay red handed one night as he pulls out a dagger from a dying pavement dweller’s bleeding chest. So what does this mean? Is Sanjay the killer? We do know he is quite the kick-happy goon back in the day, right? So has that obsession finally manifested into a gory stream of mindless killings? All these questions are answered as the movie enters its final 30 minutes.

Things I definitely liked about this feature – many. For starters it is tautly timed. At a tight frame rate of 1 hour 45 minutes its narrative goes quite smoothly from scene to scene and keeps you interested in Sanjay’s investigation. Kay Kay again delivers a very convincing performance as the hassled Sanjay Shelaar who changes skin from being a hot headed cop to a manipulative investigator on the run. Given that this is a thriller, it has all the ingredients that will surprise you at the right times with just the right amount of sound effects and camera movements. A gripping climax completes the circle of the stoneman’s killings and what eventually happens to Sanjay and his investigation.

Things I found a tad hard to digest: the ill placed bar dance sequence with a typical Bollywood ishtyle item number. A random nude shot of Sanjay's wife from behind (above the waist of course. This is Bollywood!) which came out of nowhere and seemed a tad forced to please the 'aam jaanta'. The needless domestic horseplay between husband and wife with the woman going from one roller coaster of an emotion to another with a clear indication that she doesn’t trust her husband at all. This, despite being the wife of an honest and hard working police inspector for so long! Odd, I felt. Also the use of the expression ‘shaaririk sambandh’ ! Something I hadn’t heard in a very very long time! But then again, this was supposed to be set in the 1980s so who knows…maybe couples did talk to each other that way. I can’t be sure about that one but it did catch me by surprise. It reminded me of a badly made Doordarshan commercial for family planning.

All said and done ‘The Stoneman Murders’ is a well executed thriller by debutante director Manish Gupta. Given the derth of good thrillers in Bollywood lately, 'The Stoneman Murders' definitely was a treat to watch. Also, I thought it was a brave move for a first time director to tread down this path given that most of them seem to stick with the stereotypical romantic-comedy genres and other 'safe zones'. We definitely need more risk taking movie makers like Manish. I wish him all the best and definitely look forward to his next feature which I hope has Kay Kay yet again! Kay Kay rocks!


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