Aparnaa Singh’s Irada, promoted as an eco-thriller, is set in Punjab. A father and daughter perform a training drill every day. Riya (Rumana Molla) is appearing for the air force entrance exams, and a part of the regimen Parabjeet Walia (Naseeruddin Shah) has devised is a daily swim in the nearby canal. Then, one day, Riya floats unconscious in the water and medical investigations reveal late stage lung cancer.
The scene then moves forward some years. His daughter now confined to a framed picture, Walia pursues businessman Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar) to be chief guest at his book launch. We learn that Sharma’s factory is responsible for reverse boring, which introduces toxic waste to the local water supply.
When a blast destroys parts of Sharma’s plant, he leans on his ally, chief minister Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta), to ensure that the investigation is buried. Enter officer Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), who is lured by a powerful post in the PMO to hush up the matter. But Mishra cannot ignore Walia. Nor can he ignore journalist Maya (Sagarika Gatge), whose activist boyfriend disappeared after he collected evidence that could nail Sharma.
Swayed by Walia’s integrity, Mishra finds himself digging deeper and deeper. In pursuit of the main suspect, Mishra ends up on a train full of cancer patients and learns how big business has contributed to the spread of the disease.
While there’s no faulting Irada’s intentions, the narrative is poorly crafted and clumsily executed. As much as it’s a treat to watch Shah and Warsi, the two song montages are irritants and the production values a big downer. Important issues are glossed over and exaggerated performances by Dutta and Rajesh Sharma (as Kelkar’s right hand man) add to the emotional disconnect. The surprise end is no surprise at all – a go-to twist used in several thrillers, including the recent Kahaani 2.
There’s definitely a better story waiting to be told, maybe one that focuses on the “cancer train” – a harrowing idea in itself.
Irada released in theatres on 17 February.