Neeyat Review: Vidya Balan Led Whodunnit Gets Its Knives Out, But They Are Frustratingly Blunt

Whodunnit? More like Why Done It?
Neeyat Review: Vidya Balan Led Whodunnit Gets Its Knives Out, But They Are Frustratingly Blunt
hauterrfly Rating: 1.5 / 5

When the Neeyat trailer dropped, most of us thought it would be a mishmash of an Agatha Christie novel and a Knives Out mystery. It looked so much like one and we know Bollywood’s lately loving the effortlessness of not coming up with anything original. But surprise, surprise, Neeyat, directed by Anu Menon, and headlined by Vidya Balan is quite original… in just how badly executed its murder mystery is. Despite a staggering ensemble cast that has proven its mettle in some of the most popular films and series of recent times, and all the bare bones of a decent thriller, this whodunnit is so frustratingly plotted and performed, that it begs the question, why done it?

Neeyat also stars Ram Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Neeraj Kabi, Amrita Puri, Shahana Goswami, Niki Walia, Dipannita Sharma, Shashank Arora, Prajakta Koli, Danesh Razvi, Ishika Mehra and Madhav Deval. It is written by Girvani Dhyan, Advaita Kala, Priya Venkataraman, and Anu Menon, with dialogues by Kausar Munir.

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The setting of Neeyat is promising. A seaside Highgrave Castle, surrounded by restless waters preparing for an impending storm, is playing host to a group of rich people. Each of them is hiding secrets within their depths and has their motives to be here. The occasion? The host of the evening, and the owner of this palatial home, billionaire Ashish Kapoor is celebrating his birthday with his close friends and family. He gets in first, driving across a single bridge that connects this remote mansion to the mainland, along with his executive assistant, K. He has hired an event manager, Tanveer, who is to handle the preparations.

The guests begin arriving and AK, as he is fondly called, welcomes each one of them with a bear hug, and words of affinity. The people include everyone from his current girlfriend to his best friends, his brother-in-law, his spiritual guru, and his stepson from his deceased wife. And one surprise guest, CBI officer Mira Rao, a special guest of the host. 13 people in the mansion, and if you believe in the prophecy of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, that’s an unlucky number to be sitting down to dinner. Someone’s going to die.

In the spirit of protecting the mystery, I won’t go beyond telling you who dies—it is Ram Kapoor’s AK. And with everyone’s capricious relationship with the murder victim, they’re all suspects. A storm’s coming, so nobody can go anywhere, or have any connectivity with the outside world, with a killer in their midst.

So far, so good. It’s the perfect cauldron to cook up a murder mystery that could completely reel you in. And yet…

Neeyat thinks it is rather wise in holding all its cards close to its chest, as Vidya Balan’s CBI officer begins an investigation. There are scenes of her spotting something, or having a realisation as she questions the suspects, but the scene immediately cuts to the next, collecting all of this to dump that information on us in the end, when the big reveal is to happen. This had a very thin chance of working had it been executed skillfully. The biggest appeal of a smart whodunnit is when the audience is challenged with sufficient tidbits to solve the mystery before the film can. But with Neeyat, neither the early clues nor the answers we get in the end do that. They are laughably unconvincing.

Vidya’s CBI officer seems a little off from the start, one of those geeky geniuses devoid of any human emotion, a bad Sherlock parody with zero charm or intrigue. Nobody likes her in the story, and frankly, you might not either. The biggest payoff that this film offers is Mira’s story, albeit with some major logic loopholes. But did the path that lead to it have to be so drab? The scenes with her in it were annoying and dull.

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The cast is loaded, yet the performances are another mystery. Only two people had my attention. Ram Kapoor as a Vijay Mallya-coded billionaire (they even call him King, and Your Highness) Ashish Kapoor, is magnificent and earnest. You can see how deftly he shifts between heartily greeting his friends and family, and an oily manner (reminiscent of his condescending tone in Student Of The Year when he mocked his son) when talking to Vidya Balan’s Mira, letting you know all is not what it seems between them. The other is Rahul Bose, who plays the flamboyant brother-in-law of AK, the Chief Party Officer of his empire, and designated over-the-top performance, which he pulls off.

The rest, barring a few hilarious moments from Shashank Arora as Ryan (AK’s high-in-life son) are caricaturish performances. The only answer to this mystery is that perhaps the makers were chasing the vibe of a Knives Out or a Death On The Nile, with its eccentric characters. Yet here, it has the opposite effect. Even when their truths came stumbling out of the closet, I felt so indifferent to what they had to say.

And finally, there’s a grand twist to top all twists, that had so much potential, but is ruined because of how it is executed. Suddenly, an exasperated audience was sitting straight with rapt attention, because this seemed not the end but the start of something new. Perhaps, a franchise? NGL, despite the abysmal beginning, I’d be excited for the promise that Neeyat‘s ending holds. But it needs to get its house in order and put some effort in holding our interest, enough that the motives are edgier and the loopholes are a footnote in hindsight.

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Nobody believes in cold, calculated murder anymore. Sigh, what a travesty. The song ‘Farebi’ would fit perfectly with that theme.

Instead of exploring the darkness that adorns the filthy world of the rich, Neeyat goes dark literally; outdoor scenes which will have you squinting like you’re watching a Game Of Thrones episode. It’s badly executed, as if written backwards with the ending decided first and the rest just retro-fitted and sealed into place as well as it could. Unfortunately, it leaks out all logic, and ruins it all, which not even its promising ending can save.

So to anyone wondering if it is really like Knives Out, it is not. Neeyat pulls out knives but they are blunt AF, good only for botching your expectations.

Neeyat is currently in theatres, and will eventually stream on Prime Video.

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Jinal Bhatt

A Barbie girl with Oppenheimer humour. Sharp-tongue feminist and pop culture nerd with opinions on movies, shows, books, patriarchy, your boyfriend, everything.

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