First things first. Johnny Gaddar is a really watchable and enjoyable movie. Now, it’s a bit difficult to classify the movie as a mystery as there is hardly any suspense which is kept hidden from the viewers. And although there are a fair bit of twists and turns, there is a lack of shocks or ‘edge of the seat’ stuff to call it exactly a thriller. The thing which works for JG is that it retains an integrity throughout its two and a half or so hours. There is a story and the entire movie is about telling that story. There are no silly sub plots, no distracting love angels and absolutely no useless characters.
Another thing which Sriram Raghvan is quite clear about is the kind of story that he is telling. When you begin your movie by paying tribute to Mr. James Hadely Chase (him of ‘classic’ paperback thrillers with delectable covers) and Vijay Anand, you are assuring the critics not to fret over the non existent “deeper meaning” or the “sub texts” in the movie. In between JG also pays homage to movies of 80s like Parwana and Johnny Mera Naam and still manages to come across as a smart movie suited for the contemporary times.
Neil Nitin Mukesh (come on! Its not difficult to figure out his lineage from this name) makes a really promising debut. Although he appears to be a bit more dazed than required in certain parts, he is quite impressive for a first timer. He is also the most intriguing aspect of the movie. Its not just his character in the movie but also his look which makes it difficult to be convinced of the fact whether he is a good guy or a bad guy even after the movie gets over. I mean, the moment you see Dharmendra in the movie, you know he is a good guy but not so with Neil, no wonder that Sriram Raghvan went for a newcomer for this role.
The cinematography of JG provides a welcome break from the stuff that passes off as ‘thriller’ in India. So no camera breathing on your neck (Vikram Bhatt, please note!), no sudden turning and shrieking your guts out in the camera and no focusing on the shoes of the people waking around. The trick to good cinematography is not to put the camera behind a bush or under a chair but to transpose the viewer so that he can see it for himself without realizing that he is watching through the camera.
Another pitfall that JG manages to avoid is the use of jarring music to create a ‘thrilling’ effect. Though, more use could have been made of the brilliant soundtrack and at times absence of background music results in creating unnerving moments of silence in the theatre but perhaps this is what was exactly intended by the director. This also means that JG does not come across as a candyfloss entertainer like it was promoted but retains a rather bleak and somber mood despite a few really funny one liners. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Sriram Raghvan is the guy who gave India its first true modern dark movie in Ek Hasina Thi.
There is no doubt that JG is a high quality product and recommended for the sheer novelty in its treatment if nothing else.
PS: This got published in December 6, 2007 issue of Filmfare. I never got to see that issue but did get 500 bucks for it. Small joys of life!