How can a filmmaker build a suspense thriller brilliantly and then squander it away on a tame exposition?
Perhaps Sudhir Mishra, director of such gripping films as Dharavi, Main Zinda Hoon and Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, can tell us.
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He is in the city to find a man called Lakhan Yadav (Sayaji Shinde).
The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle about Avinash's reasons for coming to Kolkata to hunt for Yadav are meticulously scattered across an engrossing first hour.
Shots of Avinash hopping on and off buses, trams and the underground metro rail, top angle shots of bustling streets, beautiful visuals of the Howrah bridge, chaotic sounds of the city, all add to the atmosphere of urgency. Snappy editing and quick-paced action (including a shootout in a shady bar), help take the tension to a feverish pitch.
Interspersed with the frantic chases are moments of relief provided by Avinash's interaction with Bulbul (Rani Mukerji), with whom he is forced to share a room in a bustling basti.
But the first signs of trouble in the tight screenplay surface when Bulbul breaks into the first unnecessary song.
A few minutes later, there is a second inexplicable song and dance routine, this time in Switzerland.
By the time Avinash and Yadav come face to face, a lot of blood has spilt on the streets of Kolkata. As the puzzle starts falling into place, events take more and more implausible turns.
There is a virtual bloodbath in the second half with absolutely no sign of any authority trying to keep violence in check.
Calcutta Mail is apparently inspired by the Telugu film, Choodalani Vundi, starring Chiranjeevi and Anjala Zhaveri. There are also some shades of the Mel Gibson starrer Ransom in the second half.
Whatever its antecedents, this is just another cleverly packaged one-man show by Anil Kapoor. The entire story is designed to suit his energetic style of acting. He infuses the drama with tremendous anxiety, particularly in the first half, with his edgy body language.
Sayaji Shinde's distinctly Maharashtrian accent does not make him a convincing Bihari. Also, his character is loosely sketched and too stereotypical to evoke much menace.
Rani Mukerji too doesn't have a well-written part, but her bubbly personality sees her through.
The rest of the supporting cast, including Saurabh Shukla (his Bengali accent is inconsistent), Ganesh Yadav and Shivaji Satam, don't deviate much from their past work. Satish Kaushik plays a bad man, perhaps for the first time in his career, but he is largely ineffective.
Manisha Koirala puts in a special appearance, but doesn't have much scope for histrionics.
Despite its convoluted second half, Calcutta Mail makes an impact because of Kapoor's performance and the effective use of the city of Kolkata as a backdrop for some genuinely gripping chase sequences.
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Manisha Koirala, Rani Mukerji
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Producer: Ashwini Dutt
Music: Anand Raaj Anand
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar