Movies ...

Good neeyat, but debatable seerat! – Beyond Bollywood

Starring Vidya Balan, director Anu Menon’s Agatha Christie-style mystery thriller comes apart after the first half. Ram Kapoor, though, shines in his Vijay Mallya-like avtaar.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️ (2 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

Together they taught math/calculations to the British in Shakuntala Devi [2020]. Would they now teach the White man how to investigate a crime via Neeyat [2023]? We posed the quirky question to actor Vidya Balan and writer-director Anu Menon at the press conference on 5 July in Mumbai. Balan humbly said that we Indians are good at most things, and slowly we would teach the world everything.

Here’s a mystery thriller entirely set in a Scottish castle. The suspects are all desis, and the one investigating the crime is also a brown lady. How important was this story to be set in Scotland? Writer-director Anu Menon, who lives in the UK, proudly stated that today most of the ancient castles in the UK are owned by Indians.

Indian billionaire owning a British castle. A lavish party that is attended by all Indians. The chief of staff here is an Indian with him commanding the Whites. The desi viewer back home will cheer it. However, when you set your film entirely in a foreign land, culture, does it also distance the desi viewer?

The answer would be no as Anu Menon’s characters largely speak in a desi tone. Neeyat is all about solving a murder/suicide mystery that occurs on an auspicious evening. Absconding Indian businessman Ashish Kapoor [Ram Kapoor] has thrown a special birthday bash for his close friends in Scotland, UK. They are all brown. AK throws a stunner before the cake cutting as he announces that he will to surrender to the Indian government, police as he is confident about getting justice in the 20,000-crore financial fraud case against him. Apart from the huge financial loss, AK is also blamed for the seven suicides of investors who lost their hard-earned money to his company. The special guest in this evening is none other than CBI officer Mira Rao [Vidya Balan], who has come here to take Ashish Kapoor to India.

An ugly spat breaks out between AK and his son Ryan [Shashank Kapoor] with the latter even leaving his father with a bloody nose. A furious AK slams his son and other guests, labels all of them as leeches before he walks out of his castle. Soon the guests are left stunned to find Ashish Kapoor at the bottom of the cliff. The guests are quick to call it a suicide as a handwritten note is also found. Mira Rao, though, strongly believes that this was no suicide but a murder.

Naturally, all those present in the castle are all under the lens. From an unruly, drug abuser son to a sycophant brother-in-law, to Kapoor’s former ex-flame, Rao questions everyone present in this caste. The subsequent revelations raise a question mark over the character of every guest and the two loyal staff Kay [Amrita Puri] and Tanvir [Danesh Razvi].

After a bright first half, Neeyat [2023] slips into the déjà vu lane as the weak second half narrative turns this into another dull Bollywood whodunit saga. The two key twists in the plot play out poorly. What is consistent though is the immersive visual storytelling, rich production design. The rich visual appeal, Scottish setting gives it an international look, but with due respect, Anu Menon is no Agatha Christie. After the early promise, the weak writing badly lets the viewer down.

Vidya Balan has played the private detective before in Bobby Jasoos [2014]. That film, and the character, are poles apart from Mira Rao of Neeyat.  For a CBI officer, Rao is very restrained. The hairdo is intriguing, but Rao largely sports a straight face. She is a no-nonsense officer, but Rao doesn’t really have that authoritative presence in the castle. She is easily ridiculed by some of the guests, even assaulted. Something seems amiss with this CBI officer.  Balan largely has this cold, deadpan expression to her, which is totally opposite to her usual chirpy self. That seriousness was merited in a Sherni [2021], but the bland Mira Rao doesn’t quite engage.

Anu Menon’s most other cast members do a fine job. There’s Neeraj Kabi as Ashish Kapoor’s envious friend Dr. Sanjay Suri and his femme fatale-looking wife and AK’s former girlfriend Noor [Dipannita Sharma Atwal]. The one who is perhaps closest to AK is the holistic healer Zara [Niki Walia]. Shahana Goswami looks sizzling hot as Lisa, the current girl friend of Ashish Kapoor. Then we have the hippie son Ryan Kapoor [Shashank Arora] and his girl friend Gigi [Prajakta Koli]. Rahul Bose is annoyingly funny as Jimmy Mistry, the gay brother-in-law of Ashish Kapoor. Please don’t lose sight of the Mistry surname.

Each one of the above actors do a fair job but Neeyat belongs to Ram Kapoor. The fugitive Indian businessman naturally draws one’s attention to the Vijay Mallyas, the Nirav Modis of India. Kapoor is flamboyant like Mallya, and shrewd-like Modi. You wouldn’t trust any of Ashish Kapoor’s guests, but for all the serious allegations against him, Ashish Kapoor still puts you in two minds. There is conviction in his desire to surrender.   Maybe there is genuine remorse from the absconding Indian businessmen. You do question though that if he hasn’t paid his company staff salaries for two years, how has Ashish Kapoor managed to own this castle? The political-business reference is very subtle though.

There is a slight sense of empathy towards the character. Ram is flawless in his act. The burly Kapoor stands out his intensity, energy and humour.

On one hand you are being drawn to Ashish Kapoor, but the drama in the castle, the dubious characters also partly raise question over the perception of the rich. Prajakta Koli’s Gigi doesn’t hesitate in calling out the privileged lot. Jeez, was there some nepotism barb in it too? It would be unfair to stigmatize any class, but the quick rise of men like Ashish Kapoor often make you question their methods.

It is very brave of Anu Menon to set her mystery thriller in Scotland and create pretentious desi characters. Sure, we Indians are a progressive lot. We are heading/acquiring foreign companies, buying castles, prime properties in the West.  We’ve aced their languages too. However, we still have miles to go in making a successful, engaging mystery sagas like the West.

Watch the video review below.

You may also like