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CHOCOLATE. Director: Vivek Agnihotri. Players: Anil Kapoor, Sunil Shetty, Irrfan Khan, Tanushree Datta, Arshad Warsi. Music: Pritam.
Formula-driven films—which more or less mutate boy-meets-girl stories—may be the oldest basis of Hindi film scripts. This type of linear filmmaking now finds success only in the hands of talented filmmakers who bankroll both artistic talent and savvy marketing. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyar Kiya, and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge readily fit that mold.
Nonlinear filmmaking, on the other hand, challenges the filmmaker to sometimes reverse all gears to foil both convention and the viewer. Squarely falling into the latter category, Chocolate seizes the moment by spinning and then re-spinning an ordinary bank heist into a sensibly devised brain-teasing jigsaw puzzle that comes clean only as the camera finally pulls away.
Modeled after the immensely successful nonlinear torchbearer, Usual Suspects, which in turn was fashioned after an earlier Hong Kong entry, Chocolate is shrouded in a fog of deceit and counter-deceit as thick as the type found in London, the city that provides a scintillating gothic backdrop here. What do a Christmas Eve explosion on a barge on the Thames, a cakewalk-easy bank heist resulting in a multibillion-dollar loot, and a hotshot desi lawyer have in common? Plenty, it turns out.
The Anglicized desi lawyer Krish (Kapoor), a demigod legal eagle convinced of his invincibility, is hired to defend a young couple arrested in connection with the bank heist. Krish’s persuasiveness forces the couple to retrace their steps leading up to their arrest. The couple (Khan and Dutta) succeeds in painting themselves as mere pawns who dot a conspiracy trail involving the mafia, racketeering in the dockyards, and oh yes, a truck transporting cash at a most inopportune moment. To say more would surely spoil the fun.
Kapoor’s best films of late (no, not the brain-dead and convoluted box-office bonanza No Entry) capture his suave playboy exterior at its vulnerable, edgy best (Calcutta Mail, Musafir). Krish’s iconic, Starbucks-guzzling, hobnobbing-with-establishment-megastars, fashionable scruffiness belies a truly surprising inverted reality that crushes both Krish’s self-promoting smugness and viewer expectation. Now that is good writing.
Pritam, whose rocking music debut in Dhoom was a highlight of 2004, returns with a score featuring Sunidhi Chauhan in three numbers, including two dance ditties that fit the dance-floor bill. Sample a tune called Mummy. Not to be outdone, K.K.’s “zahreely raatein” pumps enough thumpa-thumpa mega-bass to instantly violate certain noise ordnances.
In director Agnihotri’s slickly packaged Chocolate, the most lasting impression is delivered by capturing modern London’s gothic core even in the midst of shiny, new high rises that loom over the cityscape outside Krish’s expensive office digs. The subtle gloominess, pervasive down to the lyrics of a Chauhan song that translate to “This wet December rain,” plays up to the seeing-is-not-believing game already underfoot. Successful at several layers, Chocolate is pure brain food.