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Unmasking Naqaab

By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, July 16, 2007
Come, bask in the mask. If you want to see a smile-worthy sangam of tradition and trendiness, then try Naqaab.

On the one hand there's the ultra-hip super-cool Kiss- Miss Sophia (newcomer Urvashi) who lives in with Richie- Rich Bobby Deol and romances the Devil-may-Care Dude (Akshaye Khanna) and even runs away from her church wedding(ala Julia Roberts in The Runaway Bride).

But get this contradiction. On the other hand when the clandestine couple Khanna and Urvashi break into a mela song, Abbas-Mustan (bless their suspenseful soul) do a quick dissolve with the camera to indicate to the audience that the song is a dream sequence. The problem with our cinema is, it takes on the mantle of the new millennium without knowing where it is going.

In Naqaab, the female protagonist goes from being a flaky burger waitress in a Dubai restaurant to an unsuspecting actress in a reality film to a vengeful Mata Hari...to God knows what else.

Ooof... this time Abbas-Mustan tire us out. Gone is the well thought-out paciness of Baazigar, Soldier , Humraaz and Aitraaz. There're many wheels within wheels simulating a sense of well-oiled movement in the plot.

But check the editing patterns (Hussain Burmawala). The narrative is just not getting anywhere. Yup, this time Abbas-Mustan have lost the plot.

Some early scenes when Akshaye, playing a struggling actor, and Urvashi, playing a grappling go-getter, bond with the feast have a punchy perkiness. One episode of masti between the couple in a posh hotel (where Khanna treats Urvashi to a banquet by ordering for room service from a foyer phone) seems to have been ripped off from Vikram Bhatt's Life Mein Kabhi Kabhie. But what the heck! There's a mood of anything-goes in the first -half that doesn't quite get into the required tempo.

Abbas-Mustan's creative output has lately been on the decline. Naqaab makes you feel they are now lunging for effect. Even when the earlier films were Hollywood rip offs they conveyed a sense of streamlined momentum.

Everything in Naqaab is calculated for an effect. And that goes for the characters too. They are constantly trying to be what they are not, and therefore perpetually tying themselves up in knots.

Most of this film about a whacked-out filmmaker shooting a secret improvised reality-film with characters who are actors rather than characters is shot on elaborately done-up sets representing cool clubs and sweaty bedrooms. They add to the feeling of claustrophobia that assails us from all sides.

Akshaye Khanna and Bobby Deol struggle to instill a sense of logic to the wacky plot. Khanna succeeds to some extent. Bobby, veering from devoted passion to demented creativity, fails.

The new girl Urvashi seems to have some fun playing the feisty miss who's engaged to a placid tycoon and is swept off her feet by a wicked stranger. Mills&Boon? That's old world.

Kick off your shoes and enter Abbas-Mustan's web of virtual reality. Here, anything can happen. Alas, nothing does. At least nothing to sink our teeth into.

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