Aiyaar literally means shape-shifter, one who can disappear into a disguise. Aiyaari, then, refers to the mastery of this art.
The aiyaar in this case is Colonel Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) who can transform into crafty disguises to achieve his goal. In one of the film’s most interesting portions, he takes up the disguise of a homeless beggar and lives off scraps for days to keep an eye on traitor. It is apt that he heads a covert army intelligence team, one that the government has sanctioned only unofficially.
We’ve seen it a million times before—these testosterone-filled movies with little substance. Films where men go about saving the nation and doing important things, spouting jargon, and walking very fast with a careful crease on the forehead, while the token women characters fuss about.
The story meanders on as this special unit’s star-kid (Sidharth Malhotra) turns rogue for his own reasons. The mentor-protégé team is now at opposite ends, and both are emotional about this. This is their story. And in the backdrop is the usual cacophony of wily politicians, corrupt officers, media manipulations and so on. The mentor-protégé equation reminds one of the recent Tiger Zinda Hai, where Salman Khan’s rogue agent lovingly cooks for his mentor who is a stern official visit.
Aiyaari, if it were stripped of its immersing title and an impossible-to-ignore crackerjack performance by Manoj Bajpayee, would be damp squib. Bajpayee’s eyes smolder with so much emotion, and he is so consistent and so present in the film, it’s almost as if he takes over the reins entirely. Sidharth Malhotra is competent, except that scene where one has to see and desperately try to unsee him in drag with a blonde wig and fuchsia lips.
What’s frustrating about films like Aiyaari, however, is that they tease a subject but end the conversation without making any formidable comment or offering any perspective. Launching into a preachy ‘we must fight this’ tirade, all we get are simplistic, neatly bow-tied “solutions”. The refusal to acknowledge any kind of complexity is as tragic as it is funny, like the comic-book-ish portrayal of the supposedly dangerous villains who say literal things like—‘Who cares, it’s the tax-payers’ money.” There are several other strangely awkward moments, like a character talking about a man disappearing and a visual that actually shows him vanish into thin air.
A good way to measure how far a film is willing to explore in terms of depth, is to take note of the background score and its usage. In Aiyaari, the background score is often louder than the sentiment the scene is attempting to express. It gives no scope for the viewer to think and gauge, and spoon-feeds what one is supposed to feel about each character and every scene. It’s simply relentless.
Writer- director Neeraj Pandey has made some fantastic films, but this one seems a watered-down version of his past work. With the female characters sadly sidelined, this one is all about an overdose of predictable ‘bro-yaari’. The only thing that keeps this candle from blowing out is Bajpayee’s swashbuckling act. But how much can a film depend on one performance?
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Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2