In a way, the title could take another dimension. The four principle characters (based in London) seem like strangers to Hindi cinema, or at least to what we have come to expect from lead characters. In an earlier, more stereotypical yet socially better era, three of the four principle characters here could be called negative. But today, with writers and filmmakers obsessed with dark sides of human beings, with being non-judgemental and with spinning tales of “gray” men and women, we have a thriller made on three such people and a fourth character who, though a victim of both circumstances and spouse, is not portrayed as sympathetically as deserved but is the only positive one!
And so the four characters look as if they belonged to a foreign country – at a time when Hollywood is learning from Indian cinema and so many of their films (Meet The Fockers, The Holiday), emotions- and value-wise, come across almost like Indian films set in foreign shores!
It is for this reason that the film, in its story and in its script, faces a fatal hurdle – we do not feel for the protagonists and their ‘problems’ at all. Like many such films, we are made to look non-judiciously and even with empathy at cold-blooded manipulation and complete selfishness. But the audiences are not foolish. History has shown that there is a value-system among Indian audiences, unlike for foreign audiences, and they do not excuse even the selfish obsessed lover (Gupt) or avenger (Baazigar) even in a thriller.
But while that’s the vital angle that Indians will not ignore, how does Strangers fare purely as a thriller? Taking a peak at the plotline, we have Rahul Bedi (Jimmy Sheirgill), a failed writer (shades of Manorama – Six Feet Under?) who is having problems with his wife as a result, and Sanjeev Rai (Kay Kay Menon), a management guy who has lost a son and so has an emotionally-disturbed wife (Sonali Kulkarni) who is getting on his selfish nerves. The two meet up in London’s tube and get talking. Soon they are revealing their life’s problems and the ‘main causes’ – their wives. And so comes an idea – why not help each other by killing them? Some wife-swapping, this!
But again, if you thought that this film had a shocker twist in the end, you would be wrong. Forget the (so-called) inspiration from Strangers In A Train, anyone who has seen the early 2007 Hindi disaster The Train (Strangers in The Train, get it? Ha ha!) and the 2002 flop Soch and have ruminated on the title (a dead giveaway) will guess the general pattern of the ending.
But the execution is reasonably competent in a stylized, technical sense, even if the film achieves the negative distinction of seeming ploddingly slow for even a 90-minutes runtime! And why have such a suddenly frenzied climax? Was it necessary to save a few additional minutes with such an abrupt change in the pace, like a tortoise changing suddenly into a hare? Or was there just the realization that the editor (the talented Sanjay Sankla) had taken a rest in the earlier reels?
But let’s be fair and look at the assets of this film that shine even among the fundamental handicaps. Manoj Shaw’s cinematography is almost award-worthy, though he has an unfair advantage as the film is based in and around London, simply one of the world’s most beautiful locales. The dialogues (I missed the name) are refreshingly minimalist, even curt, and thus just right for a cynical thriller. Thirdly, though the songs are largely insignificant (Vinay Tiwari of Nikhil-Vinay with Javed Akhtar), Vinay’s background music is not only apt but a pleasant change from the sound-effects-oriented clutter of the Amar Mohiles and the Salim-Sulaimans!
Aanand L. Rai’s direction is undeniably skilled, but next time round he must choose a subject and use a script that is more value-based and brisker too.
Finally, we come to the performances. And this is where the twist comes – my vote goes to Sonali Kulkarni who steals the show (if role and acting are not confused with each other) as Sanjeev’s traumatized and victimized wife. Nandana Sen is okay. As for Jimmy and Kay Kay, they are as usual seasoned and competent in their interpretations of their characters, but since the film at face-value is primarily about them, one must concede that they could have risen a little more above their roles.