Monday, March 14, 2011

Deol Dhamaka: Heyyyyy Johnny Gaddaar! (2007)

Considered to be inspired by Film Noir, Sriram Raghavan's Johnny Gaddaar was a gritty, slick and dark thriller that Neil Nitin Mukesh (son of playback singer Nitin Mukesh) was lucky to get his break in! I heard a lot about Johnny Gaddaar before I saw it, and I can't believe I delayed watching it as long as I did. Right from the start I was drawn in by the funky title sequence, the nods to Amitabh's Parwana and director Vijay Anand's Johnny Mera Naam. Writer James Hadley Chase is also an inspiration, as noted at the start of the film and seen in the overall style of the film.

The film starts with its climax, and then reverts to a flashback which is the bulk of the film. Flashbacks within the flashback are also used skillfully. The main storyline is that a group of men running a gambling den together, who also engage in some drug smuggling deals. Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh) is the youngest member of the group. He's secretly having an affair with the wife (Rimi Sen) of one of the most volatile members of their gang, Shardul (Zakir Hussain - no, not the tabla player!).

The other members of the gang are their unofficial leader Seshadri (WOOT! Dharmendra), Prakash (Vinay Pathak), and Shiva (Dayanand Shetty).

Sheshadri's friend and 'inside man' with the police, Kalyan (Govind Namdeo, who always manages to terrify me), sets up a deal for the entire gang provided they each put in 50 lakhs to purchase goods they can sell at a higher rate for a large profit. Vikram sees this as the perfect opporturnity to nab all the money and make a run for it with his lover. He sets up an elaborate alibi for himself of being in Goa, and plans to disguise himself and rob Shiva as he heads to exchange the money for goods via train. Vikram being young, nervous and inexperienced, obviously botches the job.

He returns to Seshadri, visibly shaken by the experience. Seshadri seems to be a father-figure and mentor to all the members of the gang, so Vikram clearly feels guilt-ridden and fearful in his presence. Seshadri is the MAN. He quickly figures out Vikram's role in the entire scheme, and calls him out. This scene is particularly gripping because of Dharmendra's incredible acting. He is deeply disappointed that one of his own men could betray him, and yet you feel his resistance to attack because he does care for Vikram. Unfortunately, that hesitation costs him dearly. Vikram escapes yet again, digging his hole deeper and deeper.

Meanwhile Prakash and Shardul, who are often at loggerheads, fall into another argument over Prakash's gambling debts. Prakash has borrowed a significant sum from his wife's beauty salon business to cover his gambling. His wife, Varsha (Ashwini Khalsekar), is extremely suspicious of his business dealings and worries constantly about the money being drawn from her salon. Prakash promises her that he will never risk her salon. Their relationship is portrayed with a realism we rarely see in Bollywood films, and Ashwini truly shines in her role. She is excitable, hot-tempered and passionate.

Prakash loses another large sum and asks for Vikram and Shardul to cover his losses. Shardul is infuriated, but eventually agrees. In the exchange of money, a certain amount is determined to be counterfeit (put in by Prakash, who had fallen short of his 50 lakh contribution in the group deal). Prakash takes the resurfacing of these counterfeit notes as proof that Shardul is the thief. Shardul meanwhile suspects Prakash, neither of them considering that Vikram is the actual culprit. Prakash reveals his suspicions (confirmation, in his eyes) about Shardul to Varsha and to Vikram. Vikram panics once again, and finds himself completely in over his head.

Vikram is breaking down slowly, but now Shardul is his only obstacle. Shardul eventually realizes that Vikram is behind all of the madness, not Prakash. He mentions his plans to "get" Vikram for what he's done to his wife, Mini, who freaks out thinking that he knows about their affair. She desperately tries to get a hold of Vikram to warn him that Shardul is coming for him, and their showdown leads to the final scenes (which we saw at the beginning of the film). Who survives? Who deals the final blow? Well I have tried my best to remain spoiler-free in this recap, so I won't answer those questions ...

I really enjoyed this film. The cinematography, the editing, the nods to Film Noir and 70s Hindi Cinema, the crime drama and the suspense all came together beautifully. Vikram's desperate attempts to fix the situation simply spiral him further and further into the mess he's created. Despite Neil Nitin Mukesh's somewhat wooden and amateur performance, the other elements definitely create the sense of urgency needed to draw you in to the story. Still, Vikram's character is problematic. He's an anti-hero ... flawed and guilty. Though it's Vikram that carries you through the story, you never quite root for him.

"You thought I could act!"
Dharmendra was a delight! His character, Seshadri, had so much depth, right from his opening scenes. Despite being the tough leader of this underworld gang, he is often shown sitting alone in his home, listening to an audio cassette of his late wife singing 'Mera Gora Rang Lai Le' (a song from Dharamji's 1963 film Bandini). Seshadri is sentimental and romantic - constantly mourning his lost love. He's also warm and fatherly towards the members of his gang, as shown in a scene where he meets Shiva's girlfriend at the hospital where Shiva's mother is being treated. Vikram's betrayal of Seshadri is the deepest and most moving one in the entire film. He was definitely the character I felt the most sympathetic towards.

Of the other members of the gang, I also felt sympathy for Prakash's character, particularly because of the interaction between him and his wife Varsha, played by Ashwini Khalsekar. I first noted Ashwini in Khakee where she played a sweet, simple Marathi wife ... there are notes of the same here but with a lot more fire. I find her riveting when she's on screen. She just breathes passion and emotion! I would love to see more of her. And Vinay Pathak's Prakash is just so endearing and sincere. You know that he's a crook and yet you can't help but feel sorry for him. The chemistry between Prakash and Varsha is far more convincing than that of the main couple of the film, Vikram and Mini. Theirs is the relationship that you root for.

Zakhir Hussain plays the sleazy, explosive Shardul perfectly. Everything from the loud, colorful clothing and the dark, dangerous way he approaches his wife was spot-on. You could understand exactly why his wife hated him and ran into the arms of Vikram.  Rimi Sen did just an ok job as Mini, bordering on overacting whenever she shared screenspace with Zakhir and lacking any real chemistry with Neil Nitin Mukesh (who looks like her beta). Unfortunately Shiva is just the throwaway character to me, although they gave him a very sympathetic situation with his ailing mother and nurse girlfriend.

Well, wouldn't EVERY girl be thrilled to have this guy as her pati-parameshwar?

I don't know if I was put off by their chemistry or her hair ...
All in all, Johnny Gaddaar is an excellent film. It's gripping, well-written, and one of the best "thriller" films I've seen in a long time. The groovy soundtrack is just icing. I DEFINITELY recommend this film!

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Awww yeah Dharamji!


  1. I'm not reading this post - totally because in a weird coincidence, I forgot I ordered this film and IT TURNED UP TODAY! I skimmed down to where you said it's excellent and definitely I'm bookmarking so I can come back and read once I've watched it :) RESISTING THE URGE TO READ...

  2. It's spoiler free! But it's probably better to wait though so I don't color your opinion. I hope you still write about it because I struggled with writing this and I think yours would be much, much better. Also after I finished, I realized that this is very out of place on my blog since it's not REALLY retro or nostalgia. Eh, whatever.

  3. Hahah I caved and read it - OOOOH IT SOUNDS AWESOME! It's hard writing up thrillers eh? I've been putting off writing up Humraaz, which I LOVED, for ages, because it seems like such a difficult job - but you did an awesome job with this, I don't think you've given anything away! I can't wait to watch it! And then come back and actually leave a meaningful comment.

    Also: Deol Dhamaka is so much fun but KIND OF KILLING ME NOW :) I didn't ever intend to do a post a day but now I only have 9 days left that I don't have posts written for...and that seems totally ridiculous NOT to do only NINE MORE. Even though I'll probably never want to see Bobby, Dharam or Sunny, or write a word in my blog, for a few months once this is done!!!

  4. OMG! We are totally in sync on this one! I thought NNM was horribly wooden, too, but you're right that it's not enough to ruin the film. And how great is Ashwini Khalsekar? Why isn't she getting roles instead of boring former models?

    Also, NNM should be down on his knees thanking this film because it is the only reason he has an acting career.

  5. Dayanand shetty is simplyy the Great..... luv him... his existence in dis film is da only reason y am gonna watch ett... he shud have got a bigger role.... coz he's da Best ov ALLLL!!!! =D

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