Avant-garde director Sudhir Mishra makes his foray into the commercial arena with this latest Anil Kapoor starrer and delivers an absolute taut thriller reminiscent of the innovative and imaginative Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin. This time Mishra takes a different route, straight into the chawls of the City of Joy (aka Kolkata) and using his trademark explosive narrative style enthralls the audience through this super-jet ride, via "Calcutta Mail".
Affirmative to the tagline, "He has arrived in a city where everyone wants him dead" seen in the pre-release promos, a train passes through the bustling Howrah hub of Kolkata and that is when Avinash (Anil Kapoor) arrives to the city in search of someone. He is in search of Lakhan Yadav (Sayaji Shinde), a Bihari goon currently on a hideout in Kolkata and to reach him, Avinash has to work through his only contacts in the city, Shankar Paswan and Ghatak (Saurabh Shukla). During this search process, things take an abrupt turn and before Avinash can realize, he becomes the one who is being hunted and that is when the puzzle starts to get more intriguing (both for the main protagonist Avinash and the viewer). By making the rounds of the trams and metroes of Calcutta and exploring the effervescent Kolkata, Avinash starts to put the clues together and gets some assistance from Bulbul (Rani Mukherjee). Unknowingly, Avinash gets deceived as Lakhan Yadav gets to know about his whereabouts and stabs Avinash to eliminate him in this cat and mouse game.
Nurtured by Bulbul, Avinash regains consciousness and relates his past to Bulbul and the reason behind his frantic search. Avinash tells her about his chance-encounter with Sanjana (Manisha Koirala) and the events that lead them to get married, inspite of the disapproval of Sanjana´s politician father Sujan Singh (Satish Kaushik). What happens next? Why is Avinash after Lakhan Yadav and vice-versa? Is Sanjana a part of this? What is Avinash really looking for? Sudhir Mishra efficaciously takes us through this gripping thriller with the help of a superbly constructed plot and a suspense-driven cat and mouse game that gets the viewer to the edge of his seat.
The central idea of the movie is definitely adopted from the Telugu movie "Choodlani Vundi" starring superstar Chiranjeevi. While Choodlani Vundi is regarded as a good masala entertainer, Calcutta Mail is anything but a masala movie. It clearly shows how different and innovative Sudhir Mishra´s treatment is by presenting such a taut thriller with a superbly written screenplay (Sudhir Mishra, Saurabh Shukla and Ruchi Narain). While Anil Kapoor´s character has been defined with a lot of depth and with ample scope to perform, even the supporting characters played by Manisha Koirala, Satish Kaushik, Saurabh Shukla, Sayaji Shinde (his suffers a little for being a stereotype as compared to others) make an impact with their unique characterization. Touted to be an emotional thriller, the writers have intelligently crafted the emotions that can be seen through the character of Avinash. The emotions are not created for the audience, instead the director relies on the character of Avinash to display the emotions at every stage of this puzzle and the audience is made to go into the mind of the character Avinash and feel the emotions that he is going through at every stage. Saurabh Shukla´s dialogues are also noteworthy.
Sudhir Mishra´s direction is just sensational to say the least. Shot amongst the ´Durga Poojas´ , ´Yatras´ and the tension filled atmosphere, he has captured the ambience of the underbelly of Calcutta in a noteworthy fashion and just like Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (with his penchant for chase sequences and all the happenings in the night), he grips the audience right from the word go. Some of his sequences do remind us of Bimal Roy, especially the way he uses Calcutta as the backdrop. The train sequences, the tram sequences, the scenes at the railway platform during the climax are some of the most gripping and top class sequences by Mishra that you might have ever witnessed in a Hindi movie. Throughout the movie, Mishra has given the feel of a journey a man is going through and how one thing can lead to another.
However, there are a couple of instances where the Calcutta Mail runs off the track. It is difficult to fathom why would Sudhir Mishra, an auteur associated with meaningful cinema, throw in unwanted songs and the baggage associated with those songs, two in a row that would test the patience of a viewer when thoroughly engrossed with the rest of the proceedings. The second half also provides some unwanted sequences between Anil Kapoor, Manisha Koirala and the young kid that tend to drift a little away from the script.
Technically the movie is top-notch with some terrific work in the editing department by the late Renu Saluja and Shirish Kunder. As seen in Renu Saluja´s earlier works (Parinda, 1942-A Love Story, Ardh Satya, Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin and many more), the editing is razor-sharp and gives the movie the required slickness. Ravi Chandran´s cinematography is in a league of it´s own. From the rustic Virasat to the fresh Dil Chahta Hai and now the vibrant and rugged work in Calcutta Mail, proves he is amongst the best.
Anil Kapoor delivers one of his absolute best performances. His character has been defined with ample scope to perform in this screenplay-driven performance and in spite of the strong supporting cast, this really comes out as Anil Kapoor´s one-man show. In the first half, he draws the viewer into contemplating the thoughts going in his mind through his tremendous body language while in the second half, he delivers the power-packed dialogues and carries out the emotional scenes with aplomb. After the superbly restrained performance in Armaan, Anil enacts an orthogonally different explosive character with as much pizzazz and sincerity.
Manisha Koirala looks absolutely stunning after a long time. Though she doesn´t have many scenes to display histrionics in this male-dominated show, she makes her impact as seen in the train chase sequence and thereafter. Rani Mukherjee´s role is not clearly defined, but she provides some light moments in this movie. She is supposed to be the catalyst to move the movie forward in the first half, but frankly speaking her scenes and songs put the breaks on this Calcutta Mail. Kaushik impresses in his very first negative role and quite a departure from what we have seen of him. There is no doubt that he is a far better actor than he is a director. Sayaji Shinde is quite good in many scenes especially the second half, while in some scenes he is typical and suffers from the typical Bihari villain characteristics. Saurabh Shukla is good as Ghatak, the pimp. The rest of the supporting cast including Shivaji Satam don´t have much to do.
Calcutta Mail might be viewed as a trendsetter in Hindi cinema as far as thrillers are concerned and Mishra´s vision needs to be applauded. This movie is definitely not for the light-hearted and is extremely violent and heavy. Never mind some derailment of this Calcutta Mail, thanks to the songs and the excess baggage that goes with the songs, the nail-biting chase-sequences, the nerve-wracking action sequences, the high-action thrills with the entire mesmerizing backdrop of Calcutta and a flawless one-man show by Anil Kapoor, make up for that and takes the viewer for one heck of a ride and makes Calcutta Mail an absolute memorable endeavor.