A top-drawer lead turn by Irrfan sustains Abhinay Deo's black comedy
If you like your comedy black and your characters a little dim-witted, if you thought Delhi Belly was “epic", then Blackmail will hit the spot. In Abhinay Deo’s film, Irrfan plays everyman the way only he can. His cheating wife describes him to her lover as “husband type" – a generic description of a nondescript man who is doing his duty. Reena (Kirti Kulhari) married Dev (Irrfan) on the rebound, but she’s conducting an illicit affair with her former lover Ranjit (Arunoday Singh). Ranjit is married to Dolly (Divya Dutta), the boozy, brazen and spoilt daughter of a local politician.
On discovering that he’s been betrayed, Dev, instead of succumbing to his instinct for violence, opts for slow torture. Turning a liability into an opportunity, he blackmails Ranjit. Then, one drunken night, Dev shares too much with his indiscreet colleague Anand (Pradhuman Singh Mall). One crime begets another and soon there are multiple blackmails running in unison.
Dev works in a toilet roll manufacturing company, which gives Deo the chance to set many gags around defecation (as he did in his Delhi Belly), dwell on the battle between water and paper, and use the office toilet cubicles as a setting for Dev’s disreputable activities. The other characters in this colourful world include Dev’s US-returned boss (Omi Vaidya) and an ambitious, avaricious new colleague (Anuja Sathe Gokhale). There’s also a Tarantino-esque private detective called Chawla (Gajraj Rao), who refers to himself in the third person (his story is fodder for a spin-off origin story.)
The film doesn’t depend on exposition to explain situations. The quiet Dev plays PacMan late into the night and sends a two-word SMS to his wife every day at around the same time (“Leaving now") – which tells us all we need to know about the state of his marriage. He enters his middle class home, decorated with tacky curios and one wilting plant and spies on his wife through a peephole. His tender affection for her soon turns to shock and then rage when he sees her with another man.
Though it has a sizzling set up and some smart dialogue written by Pradhuman Singh Mall, Blackmail soon descends into silliness, a fallout of the lack of smarts displayed by all the characters, an overstuffed screenplay and some slack editing. Screenwriter Parveez Sheikh and Deo have no intention of preaching (though there are subtle digs at the advertising industry) or providing a neatly tied-up morality lesson. It’s enjoyable to see each successive character reveal their grey nature, but in the end, the only person you root for is Dev. Irrfan uses his craft to quietly draw you into Dev’s frustration, his eyes and body language conveying a multitude of emotions. His lead turn is the highlight of Blackmail.
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