There is nothing remarkable about Dev Kaushal, the character played by Irrfan Khan. His friend tells him rather bluntly that with his hot wife, his married life should be like a Daler Mehndi song, instead it is all Pankaj Udhas. The analogy is spot on, Dev is burdened with EMIs, credit card bills, a boring job where he has to sell toilet paper, and a loveless marriage. He prefers staying back late in office playing Pac-Man rather than going home to his disinterested wife. Dev is stuck in a middle-class miasma.
A philandering wife and a wronged husband, the premise of Abhinay Deo’s Blackmail, is hardly new. It’s a tried and tested formula that could be given an interesting spin only with the director’s craftsmanship and an airtight script. Having made an impressive debut with Delhi Belly in 2011, Deo is back with a black comedy after the very average Force 2. And with Irrfan Khan in it, the expectations naturally run high.
Blackmail is inhabited by characters whose intentions can never be trusted. Deo creates a grey world of two-faced lovers, backstabbing friend, unforgiving spouses, and greedy colleagues who just can’t keep it together. These characters are not inherently evil, but are slaves to their circumstances.
While the spine of the story revolves around Irrfan Khan, the film is embedded with subplots and quirky characters who have their own agenda. Irrfan’s boss, played by Omi Vaidya, thinks that the solution to all water problems in the world is toilet paper, and will go to any lengths to beat his competitor, the jet sprayer. Then, there is the glamourous, rich but deeply unhappy Dolly, played by Divya Dutta, who is aware that her husband (Arunoday Singh) is taking her for a ride, but chooses to turn a blind eye. With all these quirky characters, the comedy is more visceral than sublime. Of course, toilet humour makes a comeback, almost as if Deo can’t get enough of it. Sometimes, it just becomes a hackneyed crutch to elicit laughs instead of contributing anything significant to the narrative. With all these characters and parallel stories, it probably would have made for an enjoyable web-series than a feature film. The cycle of blackmail goes on like a tardy Ferris Wheel connecting all the characters, until it’s all hastily wrapped up with the message that karmic justice is served. If only it didn’t take so long. While Delhi Belly took the audience to the maniacal underbelly of the capital city, Blackmail doesn’t establish any such connection. You know it’s somewhere in Maharashtra, but the city is definitely not a character here.
Kirti Kulhari, Arunoday Singh, Omi Vaidya, Divya Dutta, and Anuja Sathe in their supporting roles, impress, but the film belongs to Irrfan Khan. His character doesn’t have epiphanous dialogues or an emotionally-charged up catharsis. With not as many words, he manages to convey Dev’s loneliness, anger and frustration, and why you’d want to root for him, despite him being a blackmailer and a backstabber. Dev, while extorting money, doesn’t demand a high sum; he asks for Rs 1 lakh, just enough to pay his bills. At the same time, he has no qualms about framing his only friend for murder.
Irrfan Khan’s Dev is just like any other middle class guy who is tired of his fizz-less existence.
The actor, who is currently undergoing treatment for neuroendocrine tumour, is beyond doubt the star of the film, but the pace fails to make it an engaging comic caper.