Murder Mubarak review: A quirky murder mystery that tries too hard

Vijay Varma and Sara Ali Khan's Netflix film is fun in parts, but largely fails to entertain

By Lekha Menon

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Fri 15 Mar 2024, 9:32 PM

Last updated: Sun 17 Mar 2024, 11:43 PM

Director: Homi Adajania

Starring: Sara Ali Khan, Vijay Varma, Karisma Kapoor

Rating: 2.5 stars

An elite British-era club in Delhi, the sort that boasts of art deco designs, lush gardens, liveried staff and ultra rich members, is caught in a controversy. A politician, accusing the management of perpetuating colonial prejudices, wants it to be razed. The club president insists the scandal is merely lower-class envy against upper-class rules. But as is common in the age of social media, the club is on the verge of being cancelled with labels like “anti-national” thrown at it. A stoic cop, ACP Bhavani Singh, to whom this tale is narrated, quips, “Aaj kal anti-national banne ke liye zyada mehnet nahi karni padhti.” (You don’t have to put in too much effort to be branded anti-national).

This self-aware one-liner is perhaps the only moment in Murder Mubarak, Netflix’s new release, that makes you chuckle. There are other moments too, thrown in here and there but, unfortunately, they all fall flat in a movie that tries too hard to be eccentric, fun and serious at the same time. The result: an unsatisfying mish-mash that comes across as pretentious as the designer-clad club members it lampoons.

Adapted from Anuja Chauhan’s Club You To Death, the premise ticks all the boxes of a murder mystery --- a posh setting, a heinous murder and several suspects. None of them are who they seem to be and each of them has a motive. Add to the mix, a Hercule Poirot-like investigator who tries to unravel the knots. Sounds familiar? That’s because we have seen this plot play out in most of Agatha Christie books, plays and movies. What matters is how ‘mysterious’ is the mystery, how engaging are the characters and whether the screenplay keeps the viewer guessing about the identity of the murderer.

On these metrics, Murder Mubarak elicits a yawn instead of a gasp. A hunky gym instructor is found dead in a tony Delhi club bringing together an assortment of suspects: a chirpy young woman (Sara Ali Khan), a brooding lawyer (Vijay Varma), a loud and colourful socialite (Dimple Kapadia), another boastful social butterfly (Tisca Chopra), a stingy former Maharaja trying to live off past glory (Sanjay Kapoor), a stunning but competitive ageing actress (Karisma Kapoor), a nervous house help (Brijendra Kala) and a few more. Tying them all up is the investigator, played by Pankaj Tripathi (who can probably act in these roles in his sleep!).

The introduction to each of the cast members itself takes around 45 minutes with each character being given a nickname. Why? No clue. It takes a while to connect one to the other and where they all stand in the story but the treatment is so laboured that you stop caring. The pace picks up once the investigation is in full swing and the latter part does perk up your interest occasionally but that’s about it.

What such a film needed was a light touch since most of the characters are exaggerated versions of themselves. That would have made it a lot more fun, say something like the Jennifer Anniston-Adam Sandler-starrer Murder Mystery. But director Homi Adajania needlessly throws in statements of class differences, upper class privilege, the hypocrisy of the rich and even a love story, all of which seem neither deep nor necessary. And yes, by this point, you have guessed the murderer too.

However, the bright spot is the cast. The actors are all evidently having a lot of fun. The best of the lot is Tisca Chopra as the archetypal high-society South Delhi aunty, caricatured by influencers like Kusha Kapila. Dimple Kapadia who saunters in and out of the script is has great screen presence but what was she exactly doing in the film? I fail to recollect. Sanjay Kapoor is fun to watch as the loud, boorish but ultimately simpering former royal. Then there is the gorgeous Karisma Kapoor whose part comic-part tragic polished act makes you wonder why there aren’t more roles written for her.

Compared to the excellent supporting cast, the leads –-- Vijay Varma and Sara Ali Khan --- surprisingly, fail to match up. Varma is reliable as always but his lovelorn sincere lawyer Akash Dogra doesn’t have an edge or an X factor that makes you want to root for him. Or maybe we have been too accustomed to seeing him in dark, layered roles in his past films! Sara’s Bambi Todi is supposed to be a girl-woman whose motivations are difficult to fathom, but the actor plays it rather flat. Is it the writing or her performance that’s at fault here?

This brings us to Homi Adajania whose best work still is Being Cyrus, his breakout debut that released in 2006. The Saif Ali Khan-starrer was in English, a crazy, experimental murder mystery with delightfully cookie characters and mint-fresh treatment that evoked shock and awe back then. His next, Cocktail, (2012) was a big hit, thanks to the music and a spectacular Deepika Padukone, but cinematically, it was average. Coming a close second in his filmography is the underrated comedy Finding Fanny (2014), also in English, with a brilliant cast comprising Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapoor, Deepika and Arjun Kapoor. The common factor between Being Cyrus and Finding Fanny? Adajania also wrote these films. I guess that’s what Murder Mubarak needed.