After watching one movie every day throughout the year, it’s understandable to get a little overconfident and start assuming that you can judge a project based on the trailer, especially when it’s from Bollywood. The Hindi film industry has been in the pits for quite some time now, and the only ones that are scoring at the box office are over-the-top blockbusters, propaganda films, or “family films” that essentially promote traditionalism. That’s not to say there aren’t any mid-budget movies that are coming out. It’s just that people have probably become too accustomed to watching them on an OTT platform because we think it’s not a big-screen experience. So, a mixture of all these reasons led me to believe that Neeyat wasn’t going to be any good. Yet, since I had a review to write and the movie was luckily available at a theater near me, I went and watched it. And I’m happy to report that I was very wrong, and Neeyat is actually brilliant.
Anu Menon’s Neeyat takes place in a remote castle in Scotland amidst a literal storm that has cut off any access to the rest of the world. It’s owned by a business tycoon named Ashish Kapoor, and he arrives there to celebrate his birthday with his friends, family, and employees. Sanjay and Noor Suri are Ashish’s old friends, with Noor being Ashish’s old flame. Noor used to work in Bollywood, but now she’s “simply” a member of the high society in London. Sanjay used to be a plastic surgeon, but his license has been canceled. Ishaan is Sanjay and Noor’s son and dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Jimmy Mistry is Ashish’s brother-in-law. FYI, Ashish’s wife and Jimmy’s sister, Tahira, is dead. Zara is Ashish’s advisor, tarot card reader, and therapist, and she has a dog named Rumi. Lisa is Ashish’s current love interest. Sasha seems to be Tahira’s adoptive daughter, with Lisa and Ashish acting as her guardian, but I’m not really sure about that whole equation. Then there’s Ryan, Ashish’s only son, and Gigi, Ryan’s girlfriend. Also present there is Ashish’s dedicated assistant, Kay, and the event manager, Tanveer. Since Ashish is guilty of committing fraud, CBI officer Mira Rao arrives there to arrest him as soon as the birthday party concludes. But when Ashish seemingly falls to his death, Rao has no option but to investigate who is the killer in the castle.
Writers Girvani Dhyani, Advaita Kala, Priya Venkataraman, and Anu spend most of the first half establishing the characters and the chemistry between them. They carefully sow the seeds that can lead you to doubt everyone who is in that castle. They set up a lot of elements that come into play later on as tensions begin to rise. But due to the lack of bite in Kausar Munir’s dialogue, things tend to drag. The influence of the Knives Out, Hercule Poirot, Byomkesh Bakshy, Feluda, and Sherlock Holmes films start to become more prominent than the plot of Neeyat. And just when it seems like things are not going to pick up, the masks begin to drop in the second half, thereby leading to startling and funny conversations between Mira Rao and Ashish’s associates. You can say that even that’s pretty standard for a whodunnit. What’s so special about this one? Well, apart from the obvious that the sleuth in question is a woman, it has a potent theme of queer vengeance coursing through its veins. It’s something that we rarely see in movies nowadays, let alone in mystery films. Even when it is done, it leaves a bad aftertaste because most Indian filmmakers are incapable of handling queer characters. This team keeps things sensitive and emotional enough to get behind the character’s motivations and the mind-blowing conclusion.
In addition to that, it talks about class. No, not in the cliche “eat the rich” way. Neeyat specifically talks about government favoritism, which is widening the economic gap and thereby leading to classism. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll notice the similarities between Ashish Kapoor and a lot of business tycoons who have made a lot of money in India through fraudulent activities and are living comfortably in a foreign country. How did they do that fraud? How did they make that much money? How did they manage to get out of the country without being stopped at the airport? The simple answer is the government because, without intentional negligence or help from the administration, no one can flee the country with crores of money. While this is happening, the general public has to deal with inflation, interest rates, and constant harassment when they aren’t able to pay up. But no one cares about this difference in treatment between a rich person and a poor person because it has been normalized. The death of a private employee, a farmer, or a retired individual doesn’t even become national news nowadays, but panel discussions are held to analyze the love life of the wealthy. And it’s this hypocrisy that this film is calling out. So, major props to the writers for that.
Anu Menon and cinematographer Andreas Neo won me over with the copious amounts of split-diopter shots in Neeyat. Sometimes it has a thematically relevant purpose; sometimes it doesn’t. I couldn’t care because I have been programmed by the likes of Brian De Palma, Quentin Tarantino, and John Carpenter to get hyped as soon as I see a split-diopter shot. Along with editor Adam Moss, art director Lydia Moss, the production design team, and the sound design team, Menon and Neo do a good job of making the castle feel like it’s caving in on you as well as the characters. The geography of the structure is purposefully confounding so that it seems like you are in a labyrinth. They’ve used some kind of a filter that emulates a light leak, which gives some of the scenes where the characters are remembering an instance a dreamlike quality. The use of split-screens for the conversation scenes is refreshing. The external shots could’ve been better. It is a case of day-for-night shooting, but the unnatural gray and blue hue is very unappealing. The score by Mikey McCleary could’ve been pulpier. The overall pacing could’ve been a lot tighter because a few scenes do overstay their welcome. Menon should’ve been a little more confident with her sense of tone, as she takes some time to establish if this is a dark comedy or a serious film. Other than that, yes, it’s pretty solid.
The entire cast is the crowning jewel of Neeyat. Ram Kapoor proves yet again that he’s one of the bests in the business. The way he can use his physicality, his voice, and his eyes to reveal so much about his character is fascinating to watch. Rahul Bose can seem like a caricature at times. But it’s the entire point of his character. Dipannita Sharma exudes elegance in every frame she is in. Shashank Arora’s nervous energy is perfect. There’s even a line about his pain-stricken eyes, and it is so apt. Shahana Goswami’s dumb bimbo act is on point, which makes her eventual twist all the more surprising. Neeraj Kabi delivers yet another masterclass in acting. This man is one of the best actors in the world, period. Prajakta Koli is amazing. I have some reservations about YouTubers transitioning into full-fledged acting roles. However, Prajakta is terrific. The passion that she shows in the final speech brilliantly underscores the film’s themes. Instead of flexing her immense experience, Niki Walia calmly conveys her character’s hypocrisy while being really funny. Amrita Puri does an excellent job of portraying Kay’s tragic loyalty. Madhav Deval’s “Christopher Nolan” line is seared into my brain. Danesh Razvi’s confidence is the right flavor of annoying. And although Ishikaa Mehraa isn’t always the center of attention, her work is worth appreciating.
As for the star of the film, Vidya Balan, she is obviously the best of the best. I have been her fan since her Parineeta days, and I’m always excited about what she has to offer next. She has played various kinds of mystery solvers in Kahaani, Bobby Jasoos, and Sherni. And her turn as Mira Rao seems to be an amalgamation of Durga’s motivation, Bobby’s enthusiasm, and Vidya Vincent’s meticulousness. At times, it can seem like she is underplaying things to the point that she is not even acting. But if you look closely and carefully at her face, she is constantly hinting at the sadness in her character’s soul, which hits you tenfold when you learn about the source of that sorrow. The conviction with which she utters all the data that her character’s mind has processed makes you empathize with her because it seems like she’s drowning out her emotions by inundating herself with facts and figures. There are moments of extreme vulnerability, which Balan depicts with such authenticity that her eventual victory feels aptly triumphant. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can watch her play this role for as long as she wants to. I know that Bollywood isn’t good with sequels. However, I’m willing to bet on Vidya Balan and the writers who have crafted her character to give her the franchise she deserves.
In conclusion, Neeyat is a really funny, twisted, mysterious, thrilling, and relevant movie. I don’t know about people who are not online, but I know that a lot of you who are terminally online keep crying about the sorry state of Bollywood. Well, all that crying is not going to help anyone, especially not the Hindi film industry. Go to the theater and watch this film; recommend it to others; re-watch it a couple of times; and recommend it to some more people. If you wait for it to land on Prime Video, then you are part of the problem. I have to appreciate the streaming platform for giving this a theatrical release because it needs to be watched with an audience. Reacting to the twists and turns with a bunch of people is much better than doing the same at your home by yourself. And I know I am repeating myself here but I would really like you to go and watch Neeyat as soon as possible. If we don’t watch the movies that we want to watch, then we deserve the garbage that the system wants us to eat. That’s the bottom line. Deal with it.