Ittefaq is not a remake. Its basic inspiration has of course come from the 1969 thriller of the same name directed by Yash Chopra, starring Rajesh Khanna, Nanda and Iftekhar (which in turn drew on already existing sources), but apart from a handful of building blocks, there is really no resemblance between these two films.
Here’s what this week’s new release has in common with the original: a man accused of his wife’s murder escapes and takes a hostage in a house where another murder takes place. The roles played by the lead trio nearly half a century back are here taken on by Sidharth Malhotra, Sonakshi Sinha and Akshaye Khanna.
Malhotra is Vikram Sethi, a bestselling UK-based author who is in Mumbai for the launch of his new book. When we first encounter him, he is driving his car down a busy road while a bunch of police vehicles give chase. He has an accident and disappears from the scene in a severely injured condition. Through a chain of circumstances, Vikram ends up accused of two murders, his alleged victims being his wife Catherine Sethi and a man called Shekhar Sinha, the husband of a woman called Maya Sinha (Sonakshi Sinha) in whose house he took refuge while hiding from the police. Dev Verma (Akshaye Khanna), the man in charge of the investigations, is given three days by his boss to solve the case, given the political pressure from the UK government to let Vikram go since he is a UK citizen.
Director Abhay Chopra’s Ittefaq (written by Chopra with Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Mehrotra) has the audience and Dev grappling with one question throughout its 107 minutes and 48 seconds running time: should we believe Vikram or Maya’s version of events that took place in her house before and after Vikram’s arrival? I did not arrive at an answer till the end, and when the truth was finally revealed, it was not what I was expecting.
This is not to suggest that this Ittefaq is an oh-my-god-my-breath-just-stopped kind of whodunit. One major irritant persists throughout and robs the film of finesse. (Possible spoiler ahead, please do not read the rest of this paragraph before watching the film) Although we are told that Vikram is well-connected and that the UK sarkar is pushing its Indian counterpart to tighten the screws on the Mumbai police, we see no evidence of this. Quite to the contrary, Vikram goes to the extent of speaking freely with Dev without once asking for a lawyer or being advised by friends to do so. Also, clearly merely in the interests of stretching the narrative across the pre-determined three days of its length (rather than that one night in the earlier Ittefaq), Dev takes two days to get Vikram and Maya’s respective stories out of them in installments during interrogations, instead of extracting the complete story out of each at one go and then cross questioning them. This defies logic since he is otherwise shown to be a smart policeman who is often frustrated with his colleagues’ inefficiencies. Further, the cocky confession from the otherwise level-headed killer in the end, at a time when they could still have been booked for the crime, somewhat defies logic and appears to have been timed to needlessly elevate the suspense in that climactic scene, considering that the person could well have waited for a day or two to disclose their secret without risk. (Spoiler alert ends)
Still, Ittefaq has enough going for it to make it an entertaining experience. Crucial to its effectiveness is the manner in which it sustains interest levels from start to finish with its crisp storytelling, Nitin Baid’s editing that walks a fine line between keeping the narrative fast-paced and unhurried (it is just right), and the excellent balance between silent stretches interspersed with background music.
Malhotra, Sinha and Khanna deliver credible performances. And Michal Sebastian Luka’s camerawork replete with close-ups of the three central characters, mostly in semi-lit spaces and golden glows, lends an air of realism to the proceedings. The slip-ups by the police are believable since we are all well acquainted with the state of Indian crime scene investigations (look no further than the very public Aarushi Talvar murder case for evidence).
Ittefaq may not be perfect, but it is clever enough. Bollywood rarely does thrillers well. This one is not brilliant, but it is fun while it lasts.