Not a bad coincidence

Mild Spoiler Alert. Daniyal Zahid thinks Ittefaq manages to cut it, despite lacking a Rajesh Khanna or a Nanda

Not a bad coincidence
Remakes are hard. Recreating a cult classic? Even harder. A murder mystery? Good luck with that.

But a week before the remake of Murder on the Orient Express is going to hit the cinemas, Ittefaq’s remake came out.

The Rajesh Khanna and Nanda starrer from 1969 was not only among the 17 consecutive hit movies that the former gave between 1969 and 1971, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest Bollywood thrillers of all time.

And so it is no small achievement for the 2017 rendition to leave its print, while staying true to the original, even though it is a quintessential whodunit.

But how does a murder mystery remake work for anyone who’s seen the original? For, those who know the plot should not find quite as much to cherish in the remake, no matter how aptly it has been reproduced.

This is where Ittefaq’s achievements became all the more pronounced, which can’t quite be truly appreciated here without inadvertently ringing a few treacherous spoilers.

Just like the original, the film starts with police sirens, as Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra), a UK-based murder mystery writer, is trying to escape after being accused of murdering his wife Katherine(Kimberly Louisa McBeath). He finds refuge in a Maya Sinha’s (Sonakshi Sinha) apartment, and by the time the police reach the place, a second dead body is found – that of Maya’s husband Shekhar Sinha (Samir Sharma).

While Vikram is accused of the double murder, police officer Dev (Akshaye Khanna) interrogates both him and Maya who, as is later discovered, had the motive to do away with her husband.

Dev isn’t willing to buy Vikram’s claim that he coincidentally landed at the site of another murder, on the same night his wife was murdered. But there’s nothing that would seemingly link the first killing with Maya – or anyone else for that matter.

The first murder on the surface has only one possible theory. The second has two versions – that of Vikram and Maya. Which one is true – if any?

But unlike the original, there’s a third death as well.

Again, without spoiling the many twists that Ittefaq has to offer, there are quite a few additions and subtractions in the 2017 edition. And yet, this isn’t a loose adaptation or a completely different film – this is a true remake of a thriller, that gives you almost as many thrills as the original.

Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha play characters who offer opposing versions of the same night

One prominent difference between the two films is that this one is more a murder mystery than the 1969 film – that was framed in a Hitchcock-esque setting, with the audience privy to much of what’s going on.

Hence, while the events of the fateful night of coincidence play out in front of the audience in the original, they are narrated in flashback sequences in the remake – one of the many structural changes that Ittefaq incorporates to ensure that it remains a modern production.

Even so, despite keeping the solution up its sleeve, and incorporating all the technical expertise, where the remake criminally lacks is that it doesn’t have a Rajesh Khanna or even a Nanda.

Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha, both of whom have done decent jobs in various movies, don’t quite cut it in the two lead roles, and never seem to match the intensity that the script requires from the get-go. Sidharth might have salvaged in the second half some of what he might have conceded in the first, but Sonakshi Sinha is particularly unconvincing.

That the film still manages to cut it, even despite the two prime suspects and leads varyingly missing the mark, is testament to the excellence that Akshaye Khanna displays in his role as the investigator.

Khanna, who has a much more central role than Iftekhar Ahmed did in the original, carries Ittefaq – and that absolutely is no coincidence, considering how superlative and yet underappreciated he remains as an actor.

Ittefaq cannot be missed by anyone who enjoys the mystery, thriller or crime genres – it might work for those not traditionally fond of these realms as well.

Those who haven’t seen the 1969 film would have the luxury of treating it as a separate movie altogether. But it is a special treat for the buffs of Ittefaq, for the single greatest clue to unlock this mystery is actually found in the original – and not for the reasons that one might suspect.