Last Updated: Tue, Jan 11, 2005 08:32 hrs

Starring Arjun Rampal, Amisha Patel, Zayed Khan, Rakesh Bedi, Rajesh Vivek, Virendra Saxena.

Directed by Satish Kaushik

Rating: **

“Teri kurti sexy lagti hai,” sings Arjun Rampal to his screen-wife Amisha Patel before he goes blind and the film goes bust.

Wish we could see anything remotely sexy in this sterile thriller about a blind man, his beautiful wife and his closet-psychotic friend, played by Rampal, Patel and Khan with all the correct pauses in-between fits of passion.

But alas, nothing finally fits in Vaada. It’s like an over-elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Someone evidently read the instruction booklet on whodunits too carefully. So much attention is given to the fine print that the overall frmewoerk appears to miss the bus….and the buzz.

Dead at the centre, cruelly unproductive at heart Vaada is one of those could’ve-been that don’t take long to become has-beens. The cruelest blow to the audiences’ expectations (no matter how low) is that the thriller as written by Rumi Jaffrey, has the potential to grip.

The narrative just lets it droop…and drip until the basic story tapers into a blowdried deadend. Very often in the course of this stiff-and-over-conditioned film you ask yourself if director Kaushik was briefed to make a play on film. If so, the narrative ought to have been free of those frisky flights of fancy into foreign shores for Himesh Reshammiya’s can’t-get-over-you moan-rock song sequences.

Styled like the Michael Caine-Dyan Canon-Christopher Reeve thriller Deathtrap, Vaada tries to create an aura of upperclass languor. The characters, dressed in killing chic, pose with champagne glasses in sleek interiors and often play the piano, a practice that ceased in Hindi films since the days of Rajendra Kumar in the 1960s.

Like Raj Kapoor in Sangam, Arjun Rampal sings a song about betrayal and heartbreak to his best friend and business partner Zayed Khan.

It’s sad to see the cinematic references submerged in a volley of quick-fix cleverness. The dialogues and the bonding between the two heroes are designed as a game of one-upmanship where you no longer know who’s the cat and mouse…and you don’t really care.

Normally a film that begins with one hero barging into another’s home, only to see the heroine hanging by the ceiling should have you hanging on to every frame. Vaada just doesn’t get you interested enough. The sleek packaging and glistening surface create a forbidding distance between the events on screen and the audience.

Johny Lal’s cinematography bathes the frames in a tender exuberance. Watch out for the sequence where Amisha creeps up on Arjun on the piano after he finds out about her relationship with Zayed. The editing patterns suggest a constant craving to be steps ahead of the audience. Beyond a point the narration gets breathless and wheezy.

For much of the time the two leading men are required to occupy screen space and play against each other. The Rampal-Khan sequences, specially the deftly-cut sequence on the railway tracks, are intelligently written. But the two actors’ limitations can be concealed only to a point by the sleek aura that surrounds their characters.

Arjun Rampal as the blind husband is controlled in his movements. His breakdown after his wife’s suicide with her voice playing on the taperecorder (obviously inspired by Hrushikesh Mukherjee’s Anand) gets you watching.

Zayed Khan’s obsessive-lover’s act comes with inbuilt limitations. His own shortcomings as an actor and the whiny dubbing don’t help either. Everyone from Dilip Kumar in Andaz to Amitabh Bachchan in Parwana to Shah Rukh Khan in Anjaam to Salman Khan in Tere Naam has done it. Can Zayed add anything new to this by-now stereotypical anti-hero? Can the blind see? Apparently he can in Vaada.

A lot of the intended excitement in the plot hinges on Rampal’s now-you-see-now-you-don’t act. He plays blind. But the film ends up dumb.

Murdered in the prelude Amisha Patel appears in fits and starts in outfits and hair colours that don’t fit and a characterization which just doesn’t start.

Director Satish Kaushik makes efforts to spruce up the emptiness at the heart of the plot with an urbane chic that shrieks for a better resting place. The plot provides no room for the characters to breathe. The triangle is dead long before the murder victim. Long live the triangle.

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