Murder story falls flat

Akshay Kumar as naval commander Rustom in the romance-thriller film.
Akshay Kumar as naval commander Rustom in the romance-thriller film. PHOTO: ZEE STUDIOS

REVIEW / ROMANCE-THRILLER

RUSTOM (PG)

149 minutes/Now showing/**

The story: Naval commander Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) finds out that his wife, Cynthia (Ileana D'Cruz), has cheated on him with his friend, Vikram Makhija (Arjan Bajwa). Rustom shoots Vikram.

While the film-makers insist on a disclaimer at the start that any resemblance to real-life events is purely coincidental, it is no secret that Rustom is based heavily on the real-life scandal of naval officer K.M. Nanavati, who was tried in the Bombay High Court in 1959 for murdering Prem Ahuja, his wife's lover.

The case - which hinged on whether the murder was premeditated or committed in the heat of the moment - is widely regarded as the catalyst for the Indian government ending the jury trial system in the 1960s.

The jury, swayed by media reports portraying Nanavati as a victim of the system, acquitted him (although the High Court subsequently found him guilty).

However, all nuances of such a landmark case are lost to overtures of melodrama and bad acting in Rustom.

If fans were hoping to see Kumar as a character actor instead of the action hero or comedian he is so fond of playing, they will be sorely disappointed.

Instead of a glimpse of vulnerability or a chink in the armour of someone undergoing character assassination in court by a public prosecutor (overplayed by Sachin Khedekar), the audience gets forced, pallid stoicism.

Apart from a powerful, heartfelt moment, when Cynthia visits Rustom in jail and he struggles to hold back from hugging her as she cries into his chest, the film features caricatures rather than performances.

Witness Esha Gupta, who plays Preeti, the laughably vampish and vindictive sister of the murdered Vikram.

Even D'Cruz as Cynthia puts on such a flat performance as an adulteress racked with guilt that you end up being distracted by her beautiful saris.

After a laborious first half setting up the backstory and the scandalous affair, the pace picks up in the second half of the movie when the action moves into the courtroom.

Rustom is just an ineffectual reimagining of meaty source material. Its cause is not helped by ominous-sounding background music that attempts to create tension throughout.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Murder story falls flat'. Print Edition | Subscribe