Producer: Gulshan Rai
Director: Rajiv Rai
*ing: Bobby Deol, Manisha Koirala, Kajol, Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Priya Tendulkar, Prem Chopra, Ashok Saraf, Sadashiv Amprapurkar and Others
Music : Viju Shah

Reviewed by: Mohammad Ali Ikram

Rating : (out of )

To-date 1997 has had two major, over-hyped films (i.e. Koyla and Mrityudaata) that were duds at the box office. They were thankfully so, since both were pretty painful for the viewers also. Rajiv Rai's Gupt was also hyped till the cows came home, but luckily it is a far more polished product.

Gupt, if you didn't already know, is a murder mystery. Now Bollywood is not a large manufacturer of this film genre, because its past attempts have either been laugh-worthy (Yash Chopra's awful Ittefaq), or box office poison (Khoj starring Rishi Kapoor and Kimi Katkar: good movie). Only once in a blue moon we get an Abbas-Mustaan directed Khiladi, which is both entertaining and a hit. You never know if Gupt will be as successful - judging from the huge matinee crowd I witnessed, it is a likely winner - but it is almost as watchable as Khiladi.

In the movie, the hero Saahil (Bobby Deol) is framed for the murder of his stepfather, the Governor (Raj Babbar). Saahil hated his stepfather and had even tried to kill him a few days earlier when Papaji tried to force Beta to get engaged to Sheetal (Manisha) at Saahil's birthday party. Saahil loves only Eesha (Kajol), his childhood buddy from whom he had been separated for eons. Nevertheless, the party's guests have no problem assuring the court that Saahil did indeed kill his father because of the earlier incident they witnessed. Even Saahil's mom (Priya Tendulkar) testifies against him. She had stopped him from attacking the Governor at the party, and she also saw him with his hand on the dagger after Saahil discovered the body. (When will the heroes learn not to touch a knife in the body of a dead person? You're being framed, stupid!!)

So Saahil goes off to jail, is involved in some fisticuffs and escapes through the toilet drain, which is steps from the sea. (You gotta see it to believe it.) Then he begins his search to find the real killer and clear his name. On his trail is an oft-suspended 'karak' Inspector (Om Puri) and his sidekicks (Sadashiv Amprapurkar and Ashok Saraf).

You're wondering... how is Saahil going to find the real killer? Who are the possible suspects? Literally everyone folks! The film is sandwiched by a long list of famous screen villains, and they were all involved in trying to coax the deceased Governor to accept/reject a foreign contract deal before his death. Plus, there are also the Governor's other contacts and Saahil's other relatives who could have done the gruesome deed.

Rajiv Rai leaves no character in the film for the audience to cast suspicion upon. Everyone appears to have a motive to kill off the Governor (including Saahil). This aspect of Gupt is what makes the film so watchable. Every five minutes, I cast suspicion on another person; not because it is always explicitly stated, but because of the character's behaviour. For instance, witness Priya Tendulkar's behaviours in her testimony scenes and meetings with Saahil after his escape. She is either badly acting on purpose (I hope at the instruction of the director) or guilty of the crime herself.

I liked Rajiv Rai's direction in this film. Rai is not extremely gifted, but he makes the best of the talent he has. Rai himself admits that he is not a very emotional person so he makes slick action films instead. (From Rai's past films, I loved the mindless romps of Tridev and Vishwatma, but was thoroughly bored throughout most of Mohra except the songs.)

Performancewise and generally, Bobby Deol is the biggest liability of the film. I didn't except Bobby to be this bad, because he was competent in Barsaat. But the village bumpkin act from his debut may become Bobby's eternal on-screen persona. This Deol, unlike his father and elder brother, is not confident enough on screen. Sure he can dance, unlike the others, but he can't fight to save his life. In most of the action sequences he either moves slowly, hesitates or moves back after a punch, so that you can tell the other guy is letting Bobby win. So unlike the Deol Khandaan!!! Plus he also carries a dumb-founded and shy look in many of the film's scenes, especially when he is with the two talented heroines. Hey buddy, hurry up and develop a strong screen presence, unless you only want female fans.

Manisha isn't given much opportunity to act, but she tries her best in the songs, where she dances like there is no tomorrow. (Please lose some weight though, beautiful.) The couple of scenes where we do see her talent include her verbal combat dialogues with Om Puri and the comedy-cum-flirt sequence with Prem Chopra. (This lady can excel at comedy too.)

Kajol, on the other hand, is given her opportunity to stun us in more scenes than Manisha and she delivers brilliantly. Wowza! The remaining cast members are all competent, with no one really standing out among the crowd, except the real murderer.

The music by Viju Shah is of course brilliant. Who doesn't have the audio yet for this film? The videos are aptly shot on scenic locations, but the choreography by Rekha-Chinni Prakash borders at times on vulgar, particularly in "Duniya Hasseeno Ka Mela". (Too many pelvic thrusts and writing bodies all the time.) The stupid costumes given to the actresses in the film (which accentuate their heaviness), only make things worse. Cinematography by Ashok Mehta is also expectedly above average, though at times he seems to be showing off his innovative camera angles.

Gupt is generally worth your time and money. Despite all the excessive hype, the only real disappointment is Bobby Deol. You'll enjoy the suspense though and remember to keep Gupt about the ending.

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