Eadweard Muybridge’s “The Horse in Motion” is technically the first feature film that was ever made. It was “released” in the 1880s. At the time of writing this article, we are in the year 2022. And within this time period, hundreds and thousands have been made, remade, rebooted, repurposed, reimagined, and consumed. So, it’s nearly impossible to find a film that’s truly original. Yet filmmakers try to give us a unique perspective on a familiar topic, convey a certain story via their favorite stylistic choices, and hope that we’ll have a fresh experience. Yes, comparisons with older films or the use of tried-and-tested tropes are okay. But they hope that the final product isn’t stale or too derivative. Then there are films that feel like a lazy collage of every movie you’ve ever watched. They have every cliché you’ve ever encountered. And they even conclude in the most predictable way possible. “Freddy” is one such movie.
Directed by Shashanka Ghosh and written by Parveez Sheikh, “Freddy” follows the titular character, played by Kartik Aaryan, who is a dentist by profession. He is diligent about his work and cracks bad jokes to keep his patients entertained. His love life is a complete dud as he traverses the alleyways of matrimonial apps, searching for his future wife. But due to his inability to communicate properly and his habit of gazing at his date’s cleavage, he ends up getting rejected before he can even make a “move.” During a marriage ceremony, Freddy is forced to talk with a girl named Kainaaz (Alaya F). However, as soon as he musters enough courage to string a few words into a cohesive sentence, Kainaaz’s abusive husband, Rustom (Sajjad Delafrooz), comes between them and roughs Freddy up. After Kainaaz visits Freddy’s clinic to get her wisdom tooth removed, Freddy starts to stalk her and then befriend her. And as they grow closer, Freddy takes it upon himself to liberate Kainaaz from her toxic marriage.
Parveez Sheikh’s script feels like a hodgepodge of the discarded ideas from “Darlings” (which he had co-written with Jasmeet K. Reen) and every noir film with an elusive femme fatale and a killer. In “Darlings,” it was probably Reen who gave things a feminist perspective, and their combined efforts rooted the story in Mumbai’s culture. Don’t get me wrong; that Netflix movie is still horrible and repurposes stereotypes in the worst ways imaginable. But this Disney+ Hotstar release doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s relying solely on stereotypes and cliché plot twists to give things forward momentum. From start to finish, Sheikh doesn’t try to challenge the audience in any way, bring them to the edge of their twist, or make them reel in disgust with the to-and-fro between Freddy and Kainaaz. He keeps things as bland as possible as if he’s on a mission to get to the formulaic end, cash the paycheque, and chill the hell out. And you know what? Good for him. At least “Freddy” will motivate people to look for films that have done what he has done, but better.
Shashanka Ghosh’s direction is as laid-back as Parveez’s script. His collaboration with cinematographer Ayananka Bose, editor Chandan Arora, production designer Rajat Poddar, art director Ajay Verekar, costume designers Aki Narula, Dipika Lal, and Anirudh Singh makes every frame of “Freddy” look like they are from an advert. I truly wouldn’t have been surprised if, at any point in the film, Kartik started promoting a toothpaste brand, clothing brand, furniture brand, restaurant chain, hair gel, or an NGO that fights animal abuse. Now, there’s no doubt that a lot of work goes into adverts. But the reason they look so artificial is that the focus is on the product and not on how lived-in the setting in which that product is being sold looks. When it comes to movies, the places where these characters live need to feel tangible so that we can immerse ourselves in their world and believe their stories. However, Shashanka is clearly not bothered about all that. In fact, he’s so unbothered that at around the 37-minute mark, when Freddy imagines he’s floating in the sky, Ghosh doesn’t make sure that the erasure of the tuning fork or the harness that’s keeping Kartik up is proper. You can see the VFX glitches around the actor’s body in the final cut of the film.
But, yes, Kartik Aaryan is innocent of any crime. He’s genuinely the only good thing about the movie, largely because he makes no attempt to stand out like the “star” of the film. Kartik Aaryan lacks charisma. Yes, he’s the star of one of the few Bollywood films that were a box-office success in 2022. Yes, he has a huge fan base. But if you see him in his interviews or the videos that he puts up on his social media accounts, there’s a genuine awkwardness to him. He feels like someone you’ve met who is stuck trying way too hard, on and off the screen, to match his fame and the expectations of the audience he’s catering to. With Freddy, he doesn’t stifle that off-kilter vibe and doubles down on it. He lets go of his signature machismo and hence, effortlessly turns into this slimy git of a human being. His unwavering glare, his body language, his voice—everything simply clicks. He’s so good that everyone else around him simply pales in comparison, despite having a lot of screen time. This is an all-out Kartik Aaryan show, and he should take on more non-mainstream roles like this.
In conclusion, if you really want to watch “Freddy,” watch it for Kartik Aaryan. There are no other redeeming qualities to find here. I don’t know about everyone else, but the teaser and the trailer kind of hinted at a serial killer story where Freddy is a dentist by day and a metaphorical monster by night. No, it’s nothing like that. He just plays some juvenile games with Kainaaz that’ll barely get on your nerves in the right way. There is some gore towards the tail end of the film. But it’s not enough to make you look away from the screen. If you are looking for good crime thrillers, then here are some suggestions: “Hangover Square,” “Devil in the Blue Dress,” “Monica, O My Darling,” “Deep Cover,” “No Way Out,” “Tokyo Drifter,” “The Bad Sleep Well,” “High and Low,” “Intimidation,” “Stray Dog,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Long Goodbye,” “The Bride Wore Black,” “Double Indemnity,” “Out of the Past,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Blood Simple,” “In Cold Blood,” “Se7en,” “Rope,” “Dial M for Murder,” “Zodiac,” “Nightcrawler,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Memoirs of a Murder.” You’re welcome.