John Day (2013) *HQ*

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Righteous bank manager John Day (Naseeruddin Shah) is devastated when his daughter is found dead on her clandestine camping trip with a boyfriend to a desolate estate. John suspects foul play when years later, his wife faces a similar fate. The mysterious tragedies ignite his quest for truth and vengeance. Turns out, John is a pawn in a bigger conspiracy that involves gum-chewing-gun-wielding, bad-ass cop Gautam (Randeep Hooda).

Volatile and temperamental, Gautam has his own obscure motives. While he isn’t intimidated by death, he’s enslaved by the past. The two, in their pursuit of redemption and retribution, get embroiled in a vicious game of cat and mouse.

Rarely does Indian cinema come up with thrillers that appeal to both heart and mind, giving the protagonist an emotional jeopardy to surmount, and in the process, unravel a mystery that keeps you at the edge of your seat. John Day is one such rare example, produced by Anjum Rizvi, K Asif and Aatef Khan, and directed by debutant director Ahishor Solomon.

Director Solomon does not fall prey to standard cinematic storytelling, blurring the line between good and evil, as the protagonist Day slowly dons the robe of the antagonist, while the antagonist Gautam realizes a ray of humanity and love he had completely blocked from his cruel existence. Without giving away much in this review that can spoil the movie experience, the suspense is extremely well maintained as the mystery unravels, and we realize the true reason of Day’s daughter’s death.

Though the film is a bit dark, and throws up some questions about the character motivations that are not spelt out, like the child-abuse angle of Gautam, the film works immensely well with its involving narrative, and it says just enough for the viewer to buy into the actions of all players. The background score by Sandeep Chowta fills some of the gaps in the pace by building up the momentum, and the deft editing lends itself well to the drama created. Maybe a little too much was left on the editing floor in an effort to keep the pace up, which the general viewer would appreciate, but the viewer looking for a more detailed explanation may miss some deliberation that such central characters present.

Randeep Hooda keeps his clenched-jaw look constant, thus making his menacing presence felt. We’d like to see more variation in his choice of roles though. Naseeruddin Shah exudes the inner turmoil of his character with utmost conviction. Pity he gets lost in the web of events that fail to make sense. Shernaz Patel is effective in her small but significant role. As Randeep’s alcoholic and masochist girlfriend, Elena Kazan fits the bill.

John Day initially gives an impression that it’s all about decoding a puzzle or unravelling a mystery at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s gripping but like the characters, the plot is way too ambiguous, deceitful and tedious for your liking.

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