Neeraj Pandey in my view is Tony Scott of Bollywood with a more Nationalistic approach. His edge of the seat thrillers are taut and very engaging. Neeraj Pandey has found a space for himself in Bollywood which was utterly unexplored and is exploiting it to the best he can. The dividends are paying off. All his films were reasonably successful till Aiyaari hit the screens.
I have seen audience surviving terrible films, but rarely I have experienced a big budget no-nonsense film losing its audience in the middle. After the interval, many didn’t return to their seats. So what was missing? Was it a bad film? I don’t think you can call Aiyaary a bad movie. It is a film made with a lot of honesty and sincerity. Manoj Bajpai was stellar, and Sidharth Malhotra played his part well. The film had the usual Neeraj Pandey stamp all over, and the script was well thought out with an excellent supporting cast. Something must have gone wrong as the film didn’t manage to even rake in half the production cost.
There may be many, but I was able to spot seven things that may not have worked for the film.
1- The Word “Aiyaar”
If you google the word Aiyaar, till the film released, you won’t find a satisfactory answer to it. Some term it Wizardry and some – in disguise or an imposter. But, the lead actor – Manoj Bajpai disclosed its true meaning.
Aiyaar means a man who pretends to be someone else to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.
Source: India TV News
Like the word, the script too was Aiyaar, except there was no gain and the loss was real. The screenplay was overplayed to deceive in such a way that it confused the audience. Everything was trying to be so hidden that the lines thrown were Hebrew to many. This was the response I got from my friends who disliked the movie.
I agree with them in a way that the covert operation jargons sounded pretentious but they are present in every Neeraj Pandey movie. For a director who is more intelligent than the audience, he has to descend to the common denominator to communicate with the audience if he has decided to make a film which will be seen by masses. It made things difficult and complicated. He tried to hide the motivations to such an extent that the audience started to feel detached. Later the whole experience takes a downward turn at the end, and the reveals can be seen from a kilometer away.
2- Khoda Pahad Nikli Chuhiya
Neeraj Pandey spends a long time to set up the film for something big that is going to happen. A covert army secret is compromised, and all the members are in danger. The premise was interesting, and the story had a lot of promise. It is not that the filmmaker wasn’t handling it well. The story moves all the time and moves too many times and in too many places. But the director’s effort on setting it up for a big reveal was effective yet laborious.
Then later in the third act, the movie does a free fall. It was as if you are studying for the tenth exams and you were served a question paper from the second standard. Neeraj Pandey was so immersed in his set up that he almost forgot the payoff. The story moves from Delhi to Kashmir to London, and you end up with a building scam. Even MI6 agents are killed in the plot ( I would have loved it if he had named one of them as James at least) and then you hear the big reveal from a watchman and his dog about a man who was playing a baddie from his very first scene.
3- Walking is Injurious to the Pace
Though the film was engaging, the pace in which it was playing was inconsistent. The film wastes a significant amount of time in just long walks, a style synonymous to Neeraj Pandey. His filmmaking has two basic templates.
Follow the characters walking from place A to place B. You can either do a front follow, or a back follow. The lens has to be wide to enhance the dynamics of the visual and it should be covered in a single shot.
Play fast-paced rhythm music in the background when nothing is happening. The music keeps the audience tensed, and the filmmaker reminds you from time to time that you are watching a thriller.
Now, this style is continued from The Wednesday and now probably with tons of reruns on television of his films like The Wednesday, Special Chabee, Baby and Dhoni, the audience may have covered a distance till the moon. Now they probably don’t want to walk with the actors anymore. If you cut down the walks, you will end up saving a lot of money and time for the producer and the audience. Brisk walks may be useful for the character’s heart, but it is injurious to the film’s pace.
4- Why So Serious?
This is common in any Indian spy or espionage thrillers. The agents have to look serious. The jokes too are cracked with a straight face. Manoj Bajpai cribs and whines to a level that you feel he may be dealing with constipation issues. Since they are the men in uniform and they have dedicated their lives to a purpose, they only breathe for the nation.
The monotone characters are again one of the biggest flaws of Aiyaari. Beware, Neeraj Pandey, How Ram Gopal Varma made caricatures of his underworld characters in his later movies, Aiyaari gave a similar hint here. The characters looked almost on the brink of being caricatures. Sidharth Malhotra and Kumud Mishra brought a little freshness to the cast. For reference, the filmmaker can take a refresher course by watching all the Bond and even Vijay Anand movies.
5- Needless Flashbacks:
Once upon a time. Flashback… It was sheer lazy writing here. Aiyaari has series of strenuous flashbacks on irrelevant backstories. There was a flashback of very disinteresting love story. Another back story of the Col. Abhay Singh’s ( Manoj Bajpai) histrionics, another.. Aur usne meri jaan bachai thi type incident.. and few more. The flashbacks were lengthy and some very childish. They completely derailed the film. Cut out the long walks and flashback; you get a tight one and half hour thriller. The climax is still sad though.
The DI coloring of the day for night shots were so tacky that I wondered if he hadn’t used a flashback, this amateurish shots could have been avoided. When you make blockbusters, cheap filmmaking is the last thing on a filmmaker’s mind.
6- Mimicking Oneself:
It happens with almost everyone, but Neeraj Pandey is relatively new to the scene. Unlike the stalwarts like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Ramgopal Varma, who lost their mojo much later, Neeraj Pandey has to reinvent his storytelling if he wants to have a long haul. Naseeruddin Shah’s character seemed like a shadow from The Wednesday. Similarly, You will find Manoj Bajpai extending his Special Chabees duty. Danny is replaced by Vikram Gokhale. KK switched by Adil Hussain. The roles of Jimmy Shergills and Rana Dugabattis have gone to lesser known models. Aiyaary seems no different but a rehash of Baby and Wednesday.
I am not saying that Pandey should change his style. I still can make out a Spielberg or a Guillermo Del Toro movie by merely looking at the visuals, but they don’t indulge in similar stories. That is why Pandey’s M.S Dhoni was so unique from the rest. It had the long walks and the music template, but his characters were refreshing and lively.
7- Finding the Right Audience:
I once again stress Aiyaari is not a bad effort at all. It is engaging in parts and has a story which few writers will fathom. You can see the hard work behind the writing, but you can also feel the indulgence associated with it. The writing was intelligent in some places and weak too at the same time. But my issue here is not about the story or its making. It is a filmmaker’s prerogative to make his kind of cinema. But when you attempt something which is not for everyone, it becomes essential for the makers to find the right audience for it.
Aiyaari attracted a lot of women crowd because of the charming Sidharth Malhotra. But many were deeply disappointed. I saw a family in front of me didn’t return after the interval. So I asked myself, why were they here in the first place. Truly, they were not the right audience. I was not shifting in the seats, so what made them ‘not take it anymore.’ In fact, there was one woman who slept throughout the movie.
So, two things can go wrong for a movie like Aiyaari which cannot be consumed by all. First, It wasn’t marketed to the right audience. The trailers or the songs may have misled the audience into thinking it to be an entertaining cinema. Second, it was planned on a wrong business model. Any story has a potential to attract only a certain number of viewers. If you are greedy and try to seduce the audience into a movie by Aiyaar tactics to rake in bigger moolah, this Aiyaary will never work.
Business is the simple mathematics of profit and loss. If the expectations of returns are low, plan and produce it at much lower cost. If the makers differ to agree, then pull up the socks and shed the heavyweight of arrogance and write with more masala and a bigger ending.