Let’s not mince words, Neeraj Pandey’s Aiyaary is a wannabe version of 90s Hollywood spy thrillers and a bad one at that. To begin with, for a thriller, Aiyaary hardly has any thrills in it. However, loud suspense music keeps droning on in the background for major part of the film, desperately trying to remind you that the film is supposed to be a fast-paced espionage drama. Apart from a few light-hearted moments, what Aiyaary turns out to be is a sleep-inducing tonic so strong, that it can cure anyone’s insomnia.
To be fair, the film begins on a promising note, thanks to an intriguing premise and Manoj Bajpayee. Aiyaary sets out to tell the story of two soldiers, Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) and Jay Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra). Jay is part of a special covert unit of the Indian army headed by his mentor, Abhay. The unit is the Indian model of MI6 and CIA. We are told that this unit has been secretly recruited by the army chief (with blessings from a top politician), to take down anti-national elements all across the world.
While working for this unit, Jay is put on surveillance duty of some senior army officials and politicians, which disillusions him about the workings of the armed forces. He realizes that it is not only the politicians but also the army that is knee-deep in corruption. He refuses to work for the corrupt system and goes rogue. How? By becoming corrupt himself. He trades valuable info of this covert unit for cash with Gurinder (Kumud Mishra), a senior ex-army official and arms dealer. Gurinder, in turn, uses this information to blackmail the army chief and threatens to expose his covert unit. The only condition on which Gurinder promises to keep mum is if the army chief sanctions an arms deal that would cost India four times more than usual.
It becomes Abhay’s responsibility, therefore, to stop Jay from trading army secrets that will not only destroy their special unit but also result in public embarrassment of the army chief as well as the Indian Army. Thus begins the cat-and-mouse chase between Abhay and Jay that forms the major part of the film. There is also a subplot that everyone alludes to, but no one reveals until the last ten minutes of the film. This subplot resembles the Adarsh Nagar Housing society scam and seems too forced to make any sense in the larger scheme of things.
While Aiyaary is a two-hero film, Bajpayee skillfully steals Malhotra’s thunder. Bajpayee’s Abhay is the true stud of the film. His introduction scene is mind-blowing and as the film keeps getting confusing, it is Bajpayee who still manage to keep the audience interested in him and his business. The same cannot be said of Malhotra. He is mostly poker-faced and delivers dialogues in a flat disinterested tone. There are glycerin aided tears and I’m-about-to-do-something-important walks from Malhotra’s side but he looks most in character when he is the object of Sonal’s (Rakul Preet Kaur’s) affections. Rakul’s Sonal, on the other hand, is extremely convincing as your girl-next-door. It is only when she is posing as an IT genius that she looks lost. She randomly types on a laptop keyboard and expects the audience to believe that she is a pro hacker who can steal people’s identity in seconds.
While the trailer of the film boasts of a strong supporting cast, their presence is hardly felt in the film. Anupam Kher has a guest appearance and by the time Naseeruddin Shah gets screen time all hopes for Aiyaary is already lost.
There is a scene in Aiyaary where Abhay is all set to kill an informer for double-crossing him. After weeks of staying in disguise as a beggar outside the said informer’s uncle’s house, one day when the informer walks in, Abhay chases him and brings him back to the army camp at gunpoint. The informer knows that he will not be spared, however, Abhay is very hospitable to this man he is about to kill. He offers him drinks and asks him if he has a last wish. The informer says, “Noodles khilado.” Abhay sends Jay out to get some noodles. The camera follows Jay as he heads out on his bike, crosses streams and travels through winding mountain roads to enter a sleepy village in the valley. He makes an old shopkeeper reopen his store so that he can buy a pack of noodles. We then see him take the same road back. The next scene is that of the informer eating the noodles. You know that after this he will be killed as you see Bajpayee patiently waiting for him to finish his food, but by now, you don’t really care. What could have been done in a couple of short scenes drags on for a good five minutes and despite that it fails to make a point? Aiyaary biggest shortcoming is its editing or the lack of it. It not only makes the film extremely long with many unwanted scenes that don’t help in advancing the script but also goes into a labyrinth of narratives that it cannot sort out properly.
Pandey seems to be ticking off all his favorite boxes with Aiyaary. Uniformed men? Check. Government corruption? Check. One disillusioned soul? Check. Wrong means to a noble end? Check. But what he has failed to do with Aiyaary is to tell a gripping story. He fails to tie up loose ends in a movie that is extremely long.
Aiyaary begins with a disclaimer that the film doesn’t wish to hurt the sentiments of the Indian army, the nation or any political leader. It is almost sad to see that a filmmaker who always makes films that questions government authorities and their corrupt practices, is so afraid that his film might offend the ‘people in the system’ that he has to introduce an added line in the disclaimer of his film.Perhaps, that’s another reason why Aiyaary fails, because Pandey restrained himself too much in order to ‘not hurt any sentiments’.
Since Aiyaary claims to be a thriller, I don’t wish to give out any spoilers. However, this has to be said, this film completely spoils your time and mood.