MAHARATHI. Director: Shivam Nair. Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Neha Dhupia, Om Puri, Boman Irani. DVD (Studio 18).b69ff6c7450d5f0194dee0555d5336e4-2

The global recession has affected Indian movies like just about every other sector of the larger world economy. Not a single Hindi-language movie has emerged a certifiable box office hit so far in 2009. By this time in 2008, there were already half a dozen money makers on record. Skittish producers are either cutting back or postponing mega-budget releases. The most prominent on that list is Karan Johar’s post-9/11 religio-drama My Name is Khan, starring Shahrukh Khan. Originally scheduled for a 2009 release, it’s now postponed until 2010. In the meantime, there are still undiscovered gems awaiting discovery on the DVD front. Case in point: Paresh Rawal’s Maharathi. Based on Rawal’s popular Gujarati stage play by the same name, Rawal and director Nair have successfully transferred to the screen a tight murder mystery.

Prior to committing suicide, Jaisingh Adenwalla (Shah), an eccentric film producer, bequeaths the proceeds from a sizable insurance policy to anyone who can prove that his suicide was actually a murder. The chief “suspects” are Subhash (Rawal), a two-bit hood who ingratiates himself into joining Adenwalla’s household, Adenwalla’s not-so-loyal wife Mallika (Dhupia), and A.D. Merchant (Irani), the late cineaste’s unscrupulous lawyer. Staged mostly inside Adenwalla’s stylish bungalow, Nair and Rawal spin an enjoyable cat-and-mouse game between Subhash, Mallika, and Merchant who may all get stumped when police detective ACP Gokhale (Puri) enters the foray in response to a missing-persons report filed upon Adenwalla’s “disappearance.”

While the acting is uniformly credible—with Rawal acing the persona of a commoner perennially eluded by lady luck every step of the way—Rawal and writer Uttam Gada (who also wrote the stage version) would have gained even more accolades if they had admitted that the source of the storyline is James Hadley Chase’s 1956 novel There’s Always a Price Tag. Even dented by plagiarized source material, Maharathi is worth the ride.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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