Cyrus Mistry - a drifter with a story to tell, is a mystery to himself and viewers. However, he appears to be quite candid about his experiences; quite willing to give us reasons for being "distant from the emotions of human life". Homi Adajania┬┤s directorial debut is a dispassionate glimpse into the dark labyrinth which is Cyrus┬┤ mind. It is a seemingly random assortment of scenarios enacted by a bunch of oddball characters in a world of rust and peeling paint. After a long introductory voiceover, the film fragments because of incongruous stylistic choices. Overall though, the screenplay is original with a twist at the end that┬┤s very effective.
The difficulty with the film is that Cyrus (Saif Ali Khan) keeps his cards to himself; revealing only brief snatches of information as he narrates his tale. The first half of the film is quite hard to watch if one has a low tolerance for quirky scenes that seem only loosely related. Cyrus drifts into the Parsi household of eccentric potter Dinshaw Sethna (Naseeruddin Shah) and become his apprentice. Dinshaw┬┤s flirtatious wife Katy (Dimple Kapadia) throws herself at Cyrus and an affair develops unbeknown to her husband who is usually doped-up and happily oblivious.
All is not as it seems though...Cyrus appears to be holding out on us. By his own admission he┬┤s "playing Katy like a violin but to what end? Our protagonistÔÇÖs secretive sense of purpose steps up a notch when he contacts the other half of the Sethna family in Mumbai. It seems as though he and Katy are hatching a plan, which affects this branch of the family but to what purpose? More odd behavior follows as we are introduced to the remaining members of this dysfunctional unit - the boorish Farokh (Boman Irani), his disengaged wife Tina (Simone Singh) and Farounjee (Honey Chhaya) who is verging on senility. Cyrus explains some of their idiosyncrasies but withholds key information so that the tensions between them are only partially understood.
Although the first half of the film is mildly witty and humorous in a black sort of way, it really tests a viewer┬┤s patience and goodwill. There are eccentric vignettes of Dinesh and Katy interspersed with shots Tania doing goodness-knows-what and Farokh being obstreperous. None of these scenarios seem to connect with the main thrust of the story, which appears to be the interaction between Cyrus and old Mr.Sethna. To make things even more confusing, a sleazy police inspector (Manoj Pahwa) is introduced and Tania┬┤s protracted and seemingly unmotivated conversation with him appears to go on forever. If this description is confusing then the film at the midway mark is no less so.
Emotional honesty is what the film needs most and it comes at unexpected times in a series of alarming flashpoints. The understated quality of these moments is quite impressive and not typical of recent Hindi film releases. A barrage of meaning is conveyed in the simplest, shortest flashbacks imaginable; a marvelous thing to behold after being subjected to the clumsy, ill-placed and almost formulaic flash backs of many recent films.
There are several reasons why the first half of the film loses its way. Firstly, there┬┤s the problem of seeing the world through the eyes of a person who┬┤s not accustomed to opening himself up. There are too many secrets - too many dark corners. This is compounded by the fact that Adajania has obviously decided that Cyrus┬┤ revelations should come as a surprise. To create a sense of the unexpected he throws in a few red herrings - not outright lies but diversions to distract us from the outcome. Elements of the horror/thriller genre creep into the narrative much to its detriment and create futher confusion. Cyrus┬┤ nightmare - a surreal montage of sexual and violent images, sheds little light on the proceedings. There┬┤s the ominous sense that characters are being watched. There┬┤s the portent of stairs leading to closed doors and of heads babbling vitriol. All this is to no avail because often a sense of horror rests on our understanding of a protagonistÔÇÖs fears. Cyrus seems cocooned from the world of emotions so it┬┤s difficult to fear for him or with him. It┬┤s equally impossible to fear for any of the ┬┤ugly┬┤ characters that inhabit the narrative. A short comedic interlude involving Boman Irani┬┤s character and pesky dog also distracts.
The role of Cyrus is an unusual choice for Saif Ali Khan because it is a more complex character than he usually plays; he┬┤s also speaking in English throughout. It┬┤s good to see the actor taking on a part that stretches his skills and to his credit, Saif handles the new territory well. Supporting performances are all competent with veteran actors Naseeruddin Shah and Honey Chhaya really relishing their quirkiness while Boman Irani and Manoj Pahwa play the fine line between parody and brutish behavior with equal skill and gusto. Dimple Kapadia┬┤s role is less clearly defined but the actress, in her inimitable style, still gives it the necessary light and shade - warts and all.
The venture is more art-house than mainstream cinema. It┬┤s a clever piece of filmmaking but definitely not an entertainer or a time pass. Initially Being Cyrus is disappointingly disjointed but the ending is indeed a revelation and worth the wait. The cards are finally laid out and they┬┤re a winning hand.