Atul Sabharwal, the writer and director of the superb television series Powder , opens his debut feature Aurangzeb with a lofty quote from Horace, the Roman chronicle of empire: “Deep in the cavern of the infant’s breast, The father’s nature lurks, and lives anew." The movie that follows the quotation, however, moves determinedly away from profundity and towards banality.

There are two infants in question in Aurangzeb —identical twins who have been separated at birth. One has evolved into a swaggering brat who has never handled a shaving blade or seen the insides of a hair-cutting salon. The other is on standby, waiting to be inserted into the story.

And there are at least three fathers—a gangster who is moving aggressively into the construction business in Gurgaon, an honest cop, and a corrupt cop who sets the whole thing into motion when he swaps the good egg for the bad one. By replacing Ajay (Arjun Kapoor) with his brother Vishal, Ravikant (Rishi Kapoor) cements his cinephiliac credentials. Like the duplicates in Shakti Samanta’s China Town (1962), Subhash Ghai’s Kalicharan (1976) and Chandra Barot’s Don (1978), Vishal effortlessly slides into his new role. The small-town boy makes a butter-smooth entry into a world of big money and powerful players. His father Yashvardhan (Jackie Shroff) doesn’t notice that his son is no longer rude and violent. Yashvardhan’s scheming and sharp-eyed mistress (Amrita Singh), who wants to run her own empire, misses the transformation. Ajay’s girlfriend Ritu (Sasha Agha) wakes up to the deception only after her otherwise testosterone-influenced boyfriend slips under the sheets with her. There is a potentially fantastic morning-after sequence here, but Sabharwal passes on the opportunity.

The action is largely driven by Ravikant, who plots away with the finesse of a dimestore novelist and get his dirty work done by his son Dev (Sikandar Kher) and nephew Arya (Prithviraj Sukumaran), who has a connection with the twins. The moral centre, inevitably, is located in the widowed mother (Tanvi Azmi, stepping into the slippers of Nirupa Roy and Waheeda Rehman). The convolutions and contrivances in Sabharwal’s screenplay lead to yet another inevitability—a Mexican-style shootout in which everybody points guns at everybody else and 80 % of the cast conveniently gets blown off the screen.

Although there is never a dull moment in the lives of the characters, the 140-minute movie curiously lacks momentum. The Gurgaon setting holds immense promise, but it isn’t deployed in the screenplay in any effective way. The family-economy-industry-politics cocktail was mixed far better by Shyam Benegal in Kalyug (1981). The performances are strictly serviceable. Arjun Kapoor’s rawness is all too evident, but he fares marginally better than Prithviraj Sukumaran, who provides the voiceover and disgorges chunks of Hindi dialogue with a discernible Malayali accent.

The title is supposed to work as a metaphor, in the same way as the Hollywood film Chinatown (1974) and Shanghai (2012) are about abstract ideas (falsehood and aspiration respectively) rather than actual places. Aurangzeb is about inheritance, and it initially seems that Sabharwal might be able to bring new ideas to the cliché that blood is thicker than water. His movie is spilling over with characters that conform to the popular stereotype of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb—a ruthless and power-hungry maniac whose path to the throne is littered with the bodies of family members and acquaintances. The battleground is transported into a boardroom, and a bottomed-out war chest becomes a loss-making balance sheet. This is a movie that aspires to be about the mini-empires that exist within—and often work against—the Indian republic, but it scuttles its own ambitions midway through. It becomes yet another movie about twins separated by circumstance and brought together by Hindi cinema.

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