Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This is the first Indian film I’ve seen that was intended solely for the Bollywood market. I’ve seen a few Indian films, such as ‘Water’, ‘Bollywood, Hollywood’ and ‘ABCD’ – Sheetal never did call me, but I’m over her now because I’m waiting by the phone for Nandana’s call, but more on that later. Those films were starred and were made by Eastern Indians but were for a more general audience, and I don’t think this is the case for ‘Strangers’, and it’s different in that it’s a Bollywood thriller with nary a song or dance number to be found. But since a westerner has watched this film it’s going to have to be judged by this particular westerners standards, and with that in mind, how did this little thriller measure up?

Our film opens with a man being taken away by police while another man sits in his car and watches as he is taken away. The man being taken away, Rahul (Jimmy Shergill), in handcuffs walks to the window of the man in the car, Mr. Rai (Kay Kay Menon), leans in his windows and looks at him knowingly then proceeds with his escorts to the police car. This as we can plainly see is the end of the story, what we need to know is what happened and how did we get this point.

Mr. Rai waits for a train, and with his fedora and wrap around shades he’s looking a lot like a Super Spy, but no, he’s just a regular guy. He takes a seat and is soon joined by the rather talkative Rahul as the two men engage in a rather esoteric conversation speaking in platitudes and riddles.

As the two men begin to trust each other on their twelve hour train ride to London, they speak more clearly and we begin to learn about each of their troubled lives. Through flashback we learn that Rahul was a once successful writer whose career is now on the skids which he traces back to his meeting his wife Preity (Nandana Sen – who could very well be the world’s most beautiful woman. Seriously). As a matter of fact to hear Rahul tell it, Preity is probably responsible for world hunger, 9-11, Darfur and Three’s Company getting canceled. A drunken mess, Rahul is convinced that his wife is out whoring at night having sex with anything that moves.

Mr. Rai on the other hand is very successful businessman whose life was rocked by tragedy years ago which he has managed to move on from, but his wife (Solani Kulkarni) is emotionally and physically crippled by this tragic event and is about as far from ‘getting over it’ as humanly possible, and quite honestly, Mr. Rai’s had enough. So as the two troubled husbands trip nears its final destination, Mr. Rai offers a little proposition to Rahul which could possibly solve both of their problems, but alas the story is far more complex and there is so much more going on that somebody isn’t telling us, leading to a conclusion you may not expect.

Aanand Rai helmed this picture as this was the director’s freshman outing and at times his picture was intriguing, slow, frustrating, engrossing and confusing. The narrative was reasonably well crafted, though it did start out slow from the outset, as this was done to introduce us to the characters, allow us to learn about their lives and pathologies and to give some justification to their actions. Since the narrative is heavy on dialog and plot, there isn’t a lot of action in this film and as such for a film such as this to succeed it is critical that the story has the ability to interest you and that the actors involved have the ability to pull it off. The results are positive on both accounts as lead actors Shergill and Menon do a fine job of building their characters throughout the film and giving them real depth and texture with the Nanadana Sen and Solani Kiulkarni did solid work in supporting roles. I will admit though that Ms. Sen is beautiful to distraction as it was very difficult to read the subtitles and take my eyes off of her at the same time, so I might have missed a few things. It did help that characters vacillated between speaking Hindi and English which did free up my brain to focus a little more on what was happening on the screen.

There were some odd, I guess ‘editing decisions’ that were sprinkled throughout the film however. Such as an early scene when the train was arriving and Rai had about a half dozen fade to blacks of the train arriving at the station. I mean I get it, the train’s a coming. What am I missing here that I needed such a dramatic composition of the train arriving? This same instance was done near the end of the movie in a scene I can’t describe because I don’t want to give anything away, but like ten times the scene faded to black within the same scene and I just didn’t get why this had to be done. He also had this odd Digital Juice type transition effect that went from scene to scene which seemed oddly inappropriate. It’s almost as if Homer Simpson was in the background yelling ‘Star Wipe!’

All in all though ‘Strangers’ was a pretty good film that managed to survive it’s very slow start to reveal a very good story, and if nothing else, introduced me to Nandana Sen. Now I have to track down a copy of ‘A World Unseen’ which had Ms. Sen, Sheetal Seth AND Lisa Ray in it. Talk about a Murderers Row, that’s like Willie Mays batting third, Mickey Mantle hitting cleanup and Hank Aaron in the five spot. Somebody point me towards that flick.

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