The last time Rajat Kapoor directed a movie, he made a screwball comedy called Bheja Fry and hit an unforeseen jackpot. Vinay Pathak broke through the barrier of the unconventional hero in a commercial film (one that formerly Rajpal Yadav tried very unsuccessfully to break) and everyone rejoiced. Even the industry welcomed the low budget "sleeper hit". So when the promos for Mithya, very loudly proclaiming to be a product from the makers of Bheja Fry, hit screens, expectations naturally sky-rocketed.
Kudos to Rajat Kapoor for experimenting with a diametrically opposite formula this time around. Nothing in Mithya can remind you of Bheja Fry — not the genre, the treatment, nor, unfortunately, even the execution. Now Mithya isn't a bad film. On the surface, it's quite alright actually. It's bold and simple, a little dark, tragic too, and it has that very appealing kitsch-y feel to it. However, somewhere along the way, I suspect between scripting and filming, a little improvisation broke the film down.
The story is simple. Ranvir Shorey stars in two roles, one as a struggling theater actor (VK), overdosing on Hamlet, and another as a dreaded underworld gangster (Raje). A rival gangster notices the actor, kills the gangster, sneaks the actor in to pose as the gangster, and then… unfortunately, I'm not hiding the suspense here. Rajat Kapoor and Suarabh Shukla (co-writer of Satya) also apparently were left with an ellipsis around this point. So they fill it in with amnesia, emotion, double-crossing, very, very, very dark frames, and Neha Dhupia. None of these worked for me though.
Of the cast, Ranvir Shorey is once again well-intentioned, but somehow neither fills the mould of a gangster nor an actor, and seems most comfortable spouting Hindi Hamlet very passionately. Iravati Mahadev as Raje's wife Revati has an insignificant role that she's very good in. Harsh Chhaya does a convincing job of sounding and acting menacing as the brother, and Neha Dhupia is, well, not bad for a change. In fact, the first twenty to twenty-five minutes of the film are quite engaging. In parts, the camera work reminds one of the early days of the Coen brothers, circa Miller's Crossing, but the similarity with that gangster flick ends right there. In fact, even the camera work gets repetitive and dark to the point of a little difficulty in discerning different characters other than from voice. More importantly though, there is a clear lack of coherence in the screenwriter's mind, and this translates very easily from a potentially thrilling premise to an eventual emotional drama.
To give due where deserved, Mithya does stand out from other contemporary films with its lack of standardized formula. Despite its flaws and soporific tone, it attempts to, and probably does, make way for such experimental dramas. The character of VK after his amnesia has a larger scope for acting and almost gets it right. However, it falls miles short of being path-breaking cinema. The one stand-out redeeming factor in the otherwise tepid two hours odd of the film is its ending, which is fitting, albeit a little too dramatic.
My greatest lament after watching this film is the tremendous waste of a talent like Naseeruddin Shah. That Vinay Pathak agreed to do an equally insignificant cameo is understandable given the debt of gratitude he probably owes the filmmaker for Bheja Fry, but Naseeruddin Shah makes a bigger mess in this film than he did with the directorial debut. Arindam Chaudhary seems to have made a camp of his own of some very talented unconventional actors. I'm a little surprised none of them commented on the fact that the second half of this film goes nowhere. In fact, even though I'm against remakes as an idea, perhaps Shukla and Kapoor can someday re-write this script, halfway into the film, and think out the plot and pace a lot better.
'Nuff said, then. To sum it up, I'd give Mithya, on a scale of 1 to 10, a more-than-modest 7, most of it for a few scenes, and to applaud the effort to make unconventional cinema. Hopefully, Rajat Kapoor will get it right next time. For now however, Mithya is just that, an illusion.