Thursday, Feb 09, 2023 | Last Update : 03:02 PM IST
"This decadence of human values and humanity has to stop."
Close your eyes and imagine who can best utter these dialogues in precise English, with the correct emotion and the perfect posture. A handful of actors, with Amitabh Bachchan topping the list.
Think of 'Chehre' as a thriller with a long monologue attached to it, with the Bachchan baritone emphasising the various ways in which justice has failed us as a society, whether it is rape, acid attacks, or terror. Or think of it as a monologue with a thriller attached to it. Either way, it is an engrossing movie, with Bachchan in fine fettle.
Here's the thing. A fairly ho-hum thriller can be redeemed by great actors. 'Chehre' has many of them. Dhritiman Chatterjee, who makes even the most mundane dialogue sound meaningful; Annu Kapoor, with his ebullience dialled down and his acting skills dialled up; Raghubir Yadav, playing a version of his best act, the sad clown; and Emraan Hashmi, who has left his serial-kissing image far behind and notches up solid performances every time he makes an appearance on the big and small screen.
There's even Rhea Chakraborty, as a mysterious housekeeper with more than a touch of trauma.
But towering over them all is Bachchan, who still gets the kind of opening scene reserved only for reigning superstars, accompanied by thunder, loud sound effects, and dialogues such as: "Woh apne aap main hi toofan hai (the man is a storm in himself)."
Accessorised with a beard ponytail, no doubt soon to be a fashion trend; a hand-knitted beret; and Tom Ford glasses that clearly help him see his victim better, he plays the prosecuting lawyer, intent on proving Hashmi's guilt in what starts out as a mock trial, but develops into something more sinister. The atmosphere adds to the unfolding enigma: snow, candles, a fireplace, and a gent who has a way with meat choppers.
No wonder poor Hashmi looks terrified, his initial swagger deserting him as he realises his past is going to catch up with him. Because it is a Bachchan movie, there has to be a message. The inherent misogyny of the plot is swept aside by the monologue, which seems an extension from the one in 'Pink' (2016), where again Bachchan played a lawyer.
It makes a case for punishing those who get away by blaming or abusing the system. "We do not have justice here, we have judgment," says Bachchan's character, adding that in their court, "Lady Justice is not blind. In our court, she is able to see, hear, think and speak."
If he worried about encouraging a certain kind of vigilantism, Bachchan doesn't seem to be too concerned. Such bloodlust, after all, is very much in tune with the national mood, which scoffs at candle-lit marches and flower-bedecked crime sites. The gang of four in the movie positions itself as a sort of after-trial court that steps in when the candles melt and the flowers wilt.
Is it enjoyable? When is administering a strong dose of justice to slippery characters not enjoyable? Rumi Jafry, the director, keeps the pace going, with the screen characters knocking back drinks as easily as they unravel the case. Is it worth a visit to the theatre? Yes, just to remind ourselves that there is more to Bachchan than the KBC Uncle or Alexa's voice.