The newly-released Ittefaq may have its compelling points, but suspense thrillers of yore - including the original Ittefaq - were a class apart
Mystery thrillers can be dicey business. Immediately after the opening day of a movie whodunnit, the word is out on who committed the crime, and its motivation. To safeguard the suspenseful ending, there was a time when newspaper advertisements would request plaintively, "Please do not reveal the ending."
Such pleas are no longer essential, it would seem. But, the pre-release publicity campaign of the lately-released Ittefaq, toplining Sidharth Malhotra, Sonakshi Sinha and Akshaye Khanna, was kept low-key in a bid to curb any questions that could hint towards the guilty one.
Fortuitously, there have been no spoilers about this remake of the B.R. Chopra-produced and Yash Chopra-directed Ittefaq (1969), which, according to trade accounts, has performed "reasonably well" at the ticket windows.
The reviews have been mixed - ranging from the ecstatic to the lukewarm to the dismissive. And, naturally, nostalgia-philes have raised the question: what was the compulsion behind the mangling of the golden oldie of the late '60s?
Obviously, the grandsons of B.R. Chopra - Abhay and Kapil - believed they were in possession of an ideal property for a modestly-budgeted movie, which would appeal to the millennials unfamiliar with the original version featuring the then upcoming Rajesh Khanna and Nanda.
Director Abhay, and Kapil, who handled the production reins, have considerable goodwill in Bollywood. Not surprisingly, then, the remake was backed officially by both Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies production house and Karan Johar's Dharma Productions.
By the way, did I say 'original version'? I need to qualify that. The Ittefaq of 1969 was, in fact, adapted from a successful Gujarati play Dhumas, which, in turn, was 'inspired', as they say, by the 1965 Hollywood film Signpost to Murder.
Incidentally, the screenplay of this nail-biter, starring the charismatic Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman, was based on a play by the South African-anchored author Monte Doyle. Now, if any copyright issues were to be raised over the plot premise of a man on the run who seeks shelter in the house of a duplicitous woman, it would amount to an exercise in futility.
Indeed, the Rajesh Khanna-Nanda film has assumed a cult status. In an interview, Yash Chopra had stated that his elder brother B.R. Chopra and he had decided to work on a quickie to offset the huge losses being incurred during the filming of the social drama Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969). Its leading lady, Saira Banu, had fallen ill and had to be rushed to London for treatment. Quite piquantly, the catchline of one of its most-recallable lyrics went Zindagi Ittefaq Hai (life is a coincidence).
While Saira Banu convalesced, to keep the production banner occupied gainfully, the murder mystery was shot by Yash Chopra on a shoestring budget within 28 days at Rajkamal Studio.
Shashi Kapoor was the first choice for the part, but he was far too busy with a bunch of projects to allocate the dates for a month's start-to-finish schedule. As it turned out, his absence didn't make a difference. The outcome was a surprise hit. Rajesh Khanna, who was going through a lean phase, scored a triumph. Followed by Shakti Samanta's Aradhana (1969), Raj Khosla's Do Raaste (1969) and Manmohan Desai's Sachaa Jhutha (1970) - and a superstar was born.
Now, the market equity of Sidharth Malhotra, who slips into Rajesh Khanna's shoes in the updated Ittefaq, may not be sky high, but the congenial actor has asserted that he does have a fan-base among the youth audience. The footage devoted to the over-cosmeticised Sonakshi Sinha is much briefer than that of Nanda, whose blue chiffon sari worn throughout the film, had become a fashion craze.
It's Akshaye Khanna, portraying a cop cooler than an ice cube, who should be back on the scene in a major way for his impressive performance. The gifted actor, after a hiatus, had returned to the screen as an investigative cop in the Sridevi showcase Mom earlier this year. Here's keeping fingers crossed, though, that he doesn't get typecast as a police officer.
On another note, I can't help feeling that the once-fertile genre of mystery thrillers has become outdated, if not extinct. The new Ittefaq just doesn't compare in any which way either to the Yash Chopra thriller nor to the memorable edge-of-the-seat whodunnits, my personal favourites being Asit Sen's Apradhi Kaun? (1957), Biren Nag's Bees Saal Baad (1962), Raj Khosla's Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) and Mera Saaya (1966), Raja Nawathe's Gumnaam (1965) and Vijay Anand's Teesri Manzil (1966).
Tautly scripted, fluidly directed (read: minus convoluted flashbacks), sprinkled with humour and often enhanced by outstanding music scores, these were class acts that warrant repeated viewing to this day and age.
Truly, where have those magical mysteries gone?