With his first film Shaitan (2011), Bejoy Nambiar burst onto the narrow Indian indie scene as a director for whom a story on screen is as good as its post-production, machine-fed visual acrobatics. Call it the Guy Ritchie school. His new film David, a narrative involving three separate lives that share the same name, firmly establishes him in that school. We need some of those directors—optimizing a visual in every sense, and the medium’s technological possibilities. Style does not exclude substance.
This scene in David was remarkably cool: Filmed in black and white, inside a loud and crowded fighting arena. The two fighters, the hulk overshadowing the regular guy, ballistically lunge at each other inside a cage. The protagonist, a wounded gangster named David (Neil Nitin Mukesh) hungry for revenge, finds a metaphor of his own situation in what goes on in the cage. Crisply edited swishes of the camera, punctuated by slow motion, and set to a beautiful reinterpretation of the Punjabi classic Dama Dam Mast in Rekha Bhardwaj’s voice, David has some of the best visual gimmickry I have seen in Indian cinema. But that can’t ultimately rescue the film’s glaring gaps.
The three Davids are united by a final uplifting gesture that rounds off their individual journeys. One is the bastard child (Mukesh) of a Muslim gangster in London set in 1975; another, a budding musician (Vinay Virmani) who is caught in an imbroglio caused by the antagonistic political forces of his city, Mumbai, set in 1999, and the third, an alcoholic fisherman in Goa in search of love (Vikram), set in 2011.
The gangster story, derivative of the glorious gangster tradition in cinema, is the only taut story. The musician’s story loses steam halfway and the fisherman’s story does not strike the right chord from the very first scene. Awkward storytelling, redundant plot points and mediocre performances derail an original and interesting screenplay. Vikram and Tabu, actors of great calibre, seem wasted.
Watch David if you want to see enthralling images. But how much slow motion can you take in 2 hours, even if that means seeing a drop of water in psychedelic detail?
David released in theatres on Friday.