Neeyat creates zero interest in the characters, sighs Deepa Gahlot.
Any film that uses Agatha Christie's murder mysteries as a source of inspiration starts out at a disadvantage.
There is an overfamiliarity with those kinds of plots, to begin with.
Then, the cozy mystery has to be set in a single location, where a group of people is gathered, which curtails visual variety.
What works on the page does not necessarily translate well on screen, unless it is written cleverly, paced well and has a cast of attractive stars.
Daniel Craig's presence, for instance, made the two Knives Out films watchable.
Anu Menon's Neeyat has a Vijay Mallya-like flamboyant billionaire Ashish 'AK' Kapoor (Ram Kapoor) as the centre of the drama.
He is throwing a birthday party in his isolated Scottish Castle on an island. Like Lucy Foley's novel The Guest List, the invitees gathered there to celebrate are cut off from the mainland by a storm.
There is no WiFi, the cell coverage is off, and the land phone is dead.
The first few minutes are spent with the event manager, Tanveer (Danesh Razvi), giving a background of each guest to the catering staff.
A while later, these people are sent off the island, so why would Tanveer even waste that time giving them the lowdown on the invitees? For the audience, a better way could have been devised for the mandatory who's who information.
There's a disbarred Dr Sanjay Suri (Neeraj Kabi), his wife Noor (Dipannita Sharma) and film enthusiast son (Madhav Deval); Kapoor's loyal assistant Kay (Amrita Puri), a clairvoyant Zara (Niki Aneja Walia), Kapoor's cokehead stepson Ryan (Shashank Arora), his girlfriend Gigi (Prajakta Koli), AK's lady friend Lisa (Shahana Goswami) accompanied by a teenage distant relative of his (Ishika Mehra) and finally, his wastrel of a brother-in-law Jimmy Mistry (Rahul Bose).
After the meet-and-greet is done, they are joined by an enigmatic Mira Rao (Vidya Balan), who AK says is a CBI officer. She has arrived in the storm, with no discernable mode of transport, which nobody finds surprising.
AK has supposedly decamped from India after defrauding banks of thousands of crores, while members of his staff back home, not paid for months, commit suicide in financial desperation.
He now wants to surrender, face trial and prove his innocence, hence the CBI officer at his castle. But if one thinks about the plot later, knowing what he had planned, it makes no sense to call a cop over.
During the course of the dinner, Zara's dog suddenly dies, and a hideous antler horn chandelier crashes. It looks like someone is out to get AK but before he can be murdered, he is found lying at the bottom of a steep cliff.
Zara claims she saw him jump, but Mira Rao is not convinced it was suicide.
At the mandatory meeting in the study, everyone's secrets tumble out, and it looks like all of them had a motive to kill AK.
They were all 'leeches' as he shouted before huffing out into the storm.
In Christie's novels, Miss Marple (or Hercule Poirot) has already deduced who the killer is by the time the gathering in the library takes place.
Also, in Christie's intricately plotted books, there were plenty of red herrings but no dead ends. Nowhere for the reader to go, 'Huh? How?'
In Neeyat, there was no need for the question on Noor's son's paternity; a camera recording everything in the living room would never be thrown into the fire.
Why does Ryan, in a scene out of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, get Gigi to wear his dead mother's dress, when it has no impact on the guests?
Would two characters discuss crucial matters with a detective supposedly lying unconscious in the room?
Which Indian publication has the kind of resources to send a reporter undercover in London for weeks or months beforehand in the anticipation of an invitation to a party?
Neeyat is not only sluggish, it also creates zero interest in the characters. From that bunch, only Rahul Bose stands out, because he plays Jimmy with comic eye-rolling staginess.
Vidya Balan is given an unflattering get-up and deadpan look.
The positives? It is not boring, and one didn't see the final twist coming.
Neeyat could, perhaps, be watched on OTT, where it is inevitably headed.
These days, repeat audiences to the cinema halls are rare but a film can at least hope for it.
Even after knowing how Christie's And Then There Were None (the idea behind this one) ended, one can still watch the Hindi version Gumnaam (1965) multiple times and enjoy it.