In a career spanning almost two decades, right from their debut Hindi film AGNEEKAAL to their last release AITRAAZ, director duo Abbas-Mustan have handled thrillers proficiently. The mystery element worked extremely well in films like KHILADI, BAAZIGAR and HUMRAAZ.
The baazigar of thrillers now present yet another whodunit, 36 CHINA TOWN. Naturally, the expectations run high, also because the combo -- producer Subhash Ghai and director duo Abbas-Mustan -- made a noteworthy impact in their first outing together, AITRAAZ.
Like Abbas-Mustan's previous outings, 36 CHINA TOWN bears a glossy look from scene A to Z, but for any whodunit to strike a chord, it ought to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat, making him/her chew the nails till the penultimate reel. Also, if the identity of the killer catches you by surprise no sooner the mystery is solved, it's a clear sign of victory. But if it doesn't, the makers ought to realize that they've missed the bus.
Unfortunately, 36 CHINA TOWN doesn't get the grammar of whodunit right.
Suspense fares like TEESRI MANZIL, JEWEL THIEF, MERA SAAYA and BEES SAAL BAAD or, for that matter, even Abbas-Mustan's BAAZIGAR worked because [i] The writing was foolproof, [ii] the suspense quotient was intriguing and [ii] the climax was the highpoint. 36 CHINA TOWN fails on all the three counts!
To cut a long story short, 36 CHINA TOWN only cements the fact that gloss can never substitute for a spellbinding story. If the foundation [script] itself is shaky, none of the support systems [star power, music, exotic locales] can salvage the show.
Sonia [Isha Koppikar] is the owner of a casino in Goa. A successful entrepreneur, the only love in her life is her son. When the toddler suddenly goes missing, the lady is distraught and distressed. She offers a huge reward [Rs. 25 lacs] to anyone who can trace her son.
Raj [Shahid Kapoor] and Priya [Kareena Kapoor], two strangers from different backgrounds, accidentally spot the child and decide to split the reward money given by Sonia. But when they finally reach Sonia's mansion late at night, they find her murdered!
Raj and Priya panic and escape from the mansion. In the confusion that follows, Priya forgets her suitcase in the mansion. Soon, they are the chief suspects in the murder. The cop [Akshaye Khanna] realizes that this isn't an open-and-shut case, since a number of new suspects show up while the investigations are on.
The suspects include two couples [Johny Lever-Tanaaz / Paresh Rawal-Payal Rohatgi], a playboy [Upen Patel], a drunkard [Raj Zutshi] and the domestic help [Dinyar Contractor, Roshan Tirandaaz]. Who's the murderer? And what is the motive?
36 CHINA TOWN has too many things crammed in those 2.30 hours. Or, perhaps, the writer [Shyam Goel] wanted to play safe and decided to add every ingredient available on the shelf. The pre-release promotions give an indication that 36 CHINA TOWN is a whodunit, but it comes across as a regular masala movie, with emphasis on songs, romance and comedy.
36 CHINA TOWN begins with a playboy wooing girls of all shapes and sizes and breaking into a song [filmed on Upen], which is immediately followed by another song [Shahid's intro with Tanushree Dutta]. That makes it two songs in the first twenty minutes itself. No sooner do the songs end, it's time to make way for some light moments [Paresh, Johny, Payal, Tanaaz], followed by a dream song [Shahid, Kareena] and some romantic moments. In between, a pivotal character is murdered and minutes before the intermission, the focus is back on the murder.
Post-interval, you expect the writer to divert our attention to the murder mystery alone. The viewer is keen to know the suspects, the actual murderer and the motive behind the murder. But in the second hour too, the writer doesn't want you to think of murder alone. So there's loads of comedy [Johny Lever and the suitcase portion], comedy during the cross-examination [Paresh-Payal-Upen track] and a dream song in the prison cell [Shahid-Kareena].
Clearly, 36 CHINA TOWN is letdown by a sloppy script. In fact, one wonders how the supremely talented directors actually okayed such sub-standard writing in the first place. The biggest flaw is, without doubt, the climax of the film. The identity of the killer is such an anti-climax. What were the directors and writer thinking when they came up with such a thanda end? Seems like the end was penned by some kindergarten kids!
Abbas-Mustan's direction is handicapped by an apology of a script. Even otherwise, the film lacks the by-now-famous stamp of the duo, especially in dramatic scenes. Himesh Reshammiya's music is the only saving grace. 'Aashiqui Meri', '24 x 7' and 'Badi Dilchaspi Hai' are foot-tapping and what acts as an icing is that each track has been filmed exquisitely.
Cinematography [Ravi Yadav] is wonderful. Dialogues [Anurag Prapanna] are poor. Editing [Hussain Burmawala] is slick. The edit of both the versions of 'Aashiqui Meri' track is commendable.
Akshaye is, as always, proficient. His is the only performance that stands out. Kareena doesn't really get any scope. Shahid tends to go over the top. He needs to control his facial expressions. Upen Patel makes a fine debut. He seems confident.
Paresh Rawal and Johny Lever contribute to some good comedy. Isha Koppikar is wasted. Payal Rohatgi and Tanaaz are mere props. Vivek Shauq, Raj Zutshi, Viveck Vaswani, Dinyar Contractor and Roshan Tirandaaz are gap-fillers. As for Priyanka Chopra's surprise appearance, it's insignificant and seems forced.
On the whole, 36 CHINA TOWN is high on hype, but low on substance. Disappointing!