(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 1 April 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/sinister-and-gripping)
Cast: Kunal Kemmu, Amrita Puri, Manish Chaudhary
Director: Vishal Mahadkar
Rating: 4 stars
You think you know what this film’s about when you see the trailer – middle-class Indian boy wants to make it big in a foreign country, chooses work over wife, and figures out he’s bitten off more than he can chew. However, Blood Money is a lesson in making what could be dismissed as cliché appear natural. It’s also a lesson in staying a step ahead of the viewers without annoying them.
A Tarantinoesque prelude lets us meet Zaveri a.k.a. Zakaria (Manish Chaudhary), owner of Trinity Diamonds, underworld don, hoodwinker of several national governments, and generous paymaster. We find out just how well he treats his employees when Kunal Kadam (Kunal Kemmu – yes, he’s sacrificed the aspiration at the altar of numerology) arrives in Cape Town to join the firm. Kunal’s wife Arzoo (Amrita Puri) is thrilled with the Merc, the house, and the exorbitant gifts. But she’s uneasy because their charmed new life reminds her of Hansel and Gretel.
The execution is perfectly pitched. Amrita Puri tends to ham early on, but she settles into the role nicely. Vishal Mahadkar uses clever ploys to bring out the toll her husband’s job is taking on Arzoo. In one exquisite scene, she’s tempted to weep because her grocery bag tears as she’s walking home. When we’re depressed, isn’t it the little things that make us cry, like losing a pen cap, missing a bus, or getting a dent in our cars? Later, Kunal sees her in a mannequin staring dumbly out of a shop window, and the sadness in her dry eyes is palpable.
Kunal Kemmu looks every bit the cocky upstart determined to become a self-made man, while Manish Chaudhary is fantastic as the smilingly menacing Zaveri. The body language of the actors is more telling than the dialogue. The script is mostly prosaic, but that’s exactly what makes it seem so real. However, there’s a lovely allegory, where Zaveri explains the choice one has when one looks at a beautifully presented dish in an expensive restaurant.
The suspense is maintained all through, and caricatured characters turn out to be sinister, while seemingly pivotal characters end up being non-consequential. We realise just how much we’ve been drawn into the slow downward spiral of this man only when we find ourselves completely pessimistic at a juncture when the film could go either way.
The Verdict: There may be a song or three too many, and one particular sub-plot doesn’t make sense in retrospect, but that hardly matters in so entertaining a film.