A showcase for the coastal beauty of Malaysia, director Vikramjit Singh’s film scores as a long travel commercial, but is crippled by a narrative that trips over its own cleverness.

Roy is a meta-film about Kabir (Arjun Rampal), a director seeking a muse. His latest film, Guns III, begins with the story of a suave, charming and successful art thief called Roy (Ranbir Kapoor). Shooting for this takes him to Malaysia, where he begins an affair with a UK-based independent film-maker, Ayesha (Jacqueline Fernandez). He even manages to cast her doppelgänger as his leading lady Tia, a lonely millionaire. Roy is on a mission to steal a painting from Tia. Both men fall in love with their respective Jacquelines, but Kabir is unprepared to deal with the heartbreak that follows.

With art imitating life (and all that), when Ayesha unceremoniously dumps him, Kabir’s inspiration dries up. He sits for hours in front of his old-fashioned typewriter, unable to bash out a coherent word. And as he struggles to write the climax of his movie, Roy is seen floating aimlessly in a sailboat, waiting for Kabir to decide his fate.

If Roy is a mirror image of Kabir, the latter holds his cigarette in his right hand and the former in his left. Is this coincidence or design? Considering that Kabir clearly says there are no coincidences in life, even this detail must be part of Singh’s schemata.

Singh’s un-Bollywood storytelling (long pauses, silences and thoughtfulness), colour palette and controlled drama are refreshing, but the pace is sluggish and the plot too thin to carry a two-and-a-half-hour film. Plus there are creative liberties that jar within this, like a Malaysian band singing Punjabi songs, and Kabir, who conforms to every stereotype of a chain-smoking, arrogant, womanizing film-maker, except that he writes his scripts on an old typewriter.

While Rampal and Fernandez stir up a modicum of chemistry, the scenes between Fernandez and Kapoor are icy, which is saying something considering that Kapoor has enough charm to win over a lamp post. But as Roy, even he seems restricted to picking from a handful of expressions. Both of Fernandez’s characters are too alike—brooding, weighed down and over-costumed.

There was a good idea somewhere in Roy, but it’s burdened by the weight of the director’s need for gravitas, a languid pace and some comical supporting actors, such as Rajit Kapoor as a Clouseau-esque investigating officer, always two steps behind Roy. Actors, rather than stars, might have carried off this calculatingly pensive study on life and love.

Roy released in theatres on Friday.

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