Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Rohan Mehra, Radhika Apte, Chitrangada Singh, Manish Chaudhary
Director: Gauravv K. Chawla
Boys, as in adolescents, but also men who are way past their jumpy hormonal years and yet throw tantrums at the thought of “adulting”, are drawn irresistibly to men who exude power. Not the quiet, internal, moral variety, but the obvious, devious, penis-swinging brand of power which flexes, plots and then attacks to conquer.
This obsession with overt power, and the exercise and exhibition of it, is not exclusive to the male species. But it’s much more prevalent in their ilk than it is amongst women.
Thus, salivating boys around Francis “Frank” Underwood in House of Cards, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, and, to some extent, Bobby Axelrod of Billions.
Unlike the vigilantes of yore — from Dirty Harry to many Vijays of Amitabh Bachchan — these men are not out to correct the system, punish some evil being, fix a systemic glitch. These men enjoy and celebrate their power, and use it solely for self-aggrandisement, to make the other cower and genuflect.
These men tripping on their own power, dancing around and garlanding their egos that need to be fed a high-thrill diet of big, dramatic wins over staunch, determined, righteous challengers.
Evil is sexy. And when it beats and domesticates good, all its devotees knock on wood in unison.
Screenplay writers Nikkhil Advani, Parveez Sheikh, Aseem Arora, and director Gauravv K. Chawla seem to be worshipers of this sort of power as far as their collaboration on Baazaar is concerned.
Their hearts and passion lie with Shakun Kothari (Saif Ali Khan), a man who is pieced together with bits and baubles drawn from Frank Underwood, Axelrod, the Wolf and, of course, the Gujarati Jain “Big Bull”, Harshad Mehta.
But because it’s not a good thing to make heroes of men who cause death and destruction, they have, perforce, injected a mild strain of moral uprightness via the young Rizwan Ahmed (Rohan Mehra).
But when your instincts and heart are craving one thing, and your silly head is saying no, you must go with the other, no matter how much you try, you’ll at best do a half-baked job.
Baazaar is interesting, strapping, brawny when it embraces the stunningly negative power and persona of Shakun, and it wilts and sinks into dreary depression when it forces itself to stand with Rizwan.
Baazaar opens with a drunk Rizwan Ahmed in Mumbai, speaking of his sapne that cost him his apne.
Flashback to six months ago when he was a small-time broker in Allahabad, the son of a sincere but poor father whose monthly salary of `2,690 and khatara scooter irritated him no end.
This frustration of living with big dreams in a small town was not something his father got. But his sister stepped up and said, pretty much, Ja Rizwan ja, jee le apni…
And his zindagi, Rizwan decided long ago, had to be with Shakun Kothari.
As Rizwan charms, pleads and weasels his way into a brokerage firm, taking on challenges and swallowing insults and spit, quite literally, he’s both helped and chided by Priya Rai (Radhika Apte). Simultaneously, as we watch him rise, we are treated to a biopic of Shakun Kothari.
With loving care, the film shows us the rise of a 10-year-old Angadia — Gujarati name for those who ferry diamonds, gold and cash between Gujarat and Mumbai — to become a Mumbai investor and stockbroker worth `5,000 crore.
We get glimpses of his personality, his interests, his wife Mandira (Chitrangada Singh), two daughters, his business creed, his unscrupulous ways and the many men felled by his single-minded mission to further his dhando, multiply profits.
Somewhere in Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India), meanwhile, is a wall of clippings devoted to Shakun gathering dust. Rana Dasgupta (Manish Chaudhary) stares at this labour of obsession in frustration, seeing the links, understanding the game but unable to prove anything.
Rizwan is taking risks, learning the game, trying constantly to catch Shakun’s attention. And then he takes a leap and finds himself face to face with his hero, his god… Suddenly the fancy flat in the glitzy, high-rise building across his chawl seems within his grasp… And the wall of clippings gets another mugshot.
Baazaar’s plot is quite sketchy and silly. It’s made up of about four high points, with the story stuttering in between and time made up with songs and dance.
But it draws a lot from House of Cards to accessorise and fill in Shakun’s personality. Despite the copy-paste job, Saif Ali Khan is able to create and define the arched-backed, financial sharp-shooter in his style, on his terms.
Saif plays Shakun with swag, a sexy, evil glint and an impressive smattering of Gujarati. It’s a very good performance that tries its best to rescue this muddled film, but fails.
Khan’s nawabi air comes in handy here. As does the trick to get Shakun and his protégé Rizwan to break the fourth wall often.
Baazaar uses voiceover and gets both its characters to speak to us directly.
Shakun Kothari, and the man who wants to be Shakun Kothari, both share their plans, their thinking, recruiting us on their side. And so, simultaneously, we are both — the naïve, wide-eyed rookie, but also the alpha financial assassin. We too are characters in Baazaar, as much in love with Shakun as the film wants us to be.
Rohan Mehra, son of actor Vinod Mehra and his wife Kiran, is not bad, but he’s no match for Saif’s dazzling, seductive strut. He seems lost almost, in several scenes. And for this some of the blame must be borne by the film’s writers and director Chawla who love Shakun way more than they love Rizwan. And with Saif playing him with such urbane cool, they are riveted and can’t get enough.
Baazaar almost sulks at having to take a moral stand, and even then, as it reluctantly stands with Rizwan, it can’t help blowing kisses to Shakun.
It’s this moral pussyfooting that makes what could have been an interesting study of evil a rather plodding, exhausting affair.