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India's Most Wanted review: Arjun Kapoor leads an engaging, detailed cat-and-mouse thriller

Release Date: 24 May 2019 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 03min

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Shriram Iyengar

Raj Kumar Gupta's film builds a dramatic story around the capture of India's most wanted terrorist, with an impressive storyline, but it needed a tighter script.

Raj Kumar Gupta seems to have cracked the formula for turning the daily stories of lawyers, police officers and income-tax officers into dramatic, engaging films. After Raid (2018) gave us an entertaining exposition of income-tax officers and their work, India's Most Wanted journeys into an improbable story of unarmed police and Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths capturing one of India's most dreaded terrorists.

The story is based on the arrest and capture of Indian Mujahideen founder Yasin Bhatkal in Nepal by Indian intelligence officers in 2013. The story begins in the aftermath of the Pune blasts of 2008.

Following the intense vilification of the Intelligence Bureau, India's government machinery is clueless about the 'ghost' behind the serial blasts across the country. Help arrives in the form of an accidental clue to an IB officer, Prabhat Kapoor (Arjun Kapoor).

The lead is nominal, which makes it all the more suspicious. Despite that, Rajesh Singh (Rajesh Sharma) decides to send a team down to Nepal to verify it. The team consists of five unarmed, out-of-shape officers who would look more at home in a vegetable market than in a spy film. But that is the magic of reality.

As the team sets out for Nepal, putting in money of their own, without arms or logistical support, the cat-and-mouse game of chasing leads, dodging the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and finding the dreaded terrorist Yusuf (Sudev Nair), begins.

The film is engaging and captures the details that go into such an operation. Basing his story on Bhatkal's capture, Gupta carves the tale from the perspective of the officers on the ground. The interactions between Rajesh Sharma's handler and Arjun Kapoor's team leader make for an interesting watch.

Another interesting angle that Gupta explores is the relation between informers and the officers. The wrangling of the bureaucracy, the many political equations among the intelligence agencies, and how information flows is an interesting aspect the film sheds light on.

The informer, played by Jitendra Sharma, has a sly, crooked flair and makes for one of the more interesting characters in the film. The team's dithering on the decision of trusting or dropping him is one of the dramatic keys of the film.

Engaging, well-crafted and detailed, the film is a good watch. Where Gupta loses out is in the pace of the film.

While the director does well to not dramatize the film so as to lose touch with reality, he does lose out on some entertainment value. The film feels a little monotonous, though that is understandable.

Gupta tries to vary the narrative by shifting the scene to the bickerings within the Indian intelligence set-up. But it only sheds light on the idea that any Indian intelligence leadership in the past was incapable of trusting its officers in the field and was controlled by 'Delhi' (another sly hint at previous governments). This is a theme that sells in the market today, but it feels unnecessary.

The film also avoids any attempt at technical brilliance, keeping it to the bare minimal and staying true to the story. However, Gupta's screenplay also wavers in its attempt to narrate the acts of the dreaded terrorist parallely to the ongoing chase.

The shift in narrative, sometimes, takes away from the key element of the thriller — the drama of the chase. The screenplay could have been trimmed to offer a more succinct, impactful chase.

Another major flaw of the film is its villain. While the film builds up its villain to be an indomitable, unreachable 'ghost', the ultimate revelation feels like an anti-climax. Yusuf, the dreaded terrorist, is not even given a monologue to justify the build-up. It ends with two lines, answered with four by Prabhat Kapoor.

While Arjun Kapoor has the seriousness and feels well cast, the actor lacks the gravitas for some key moments. While the support cast (Prasanth Alexander as Pillai, Gaurav Mishra as Amit, Aasif Khan as Bittu, Shantilal Mukherjee as Shaumik Biswas, Bajrangbali Singh as Ravi, Pravin Singh Sisodia as Manksh) offer some moments of humour, they have little to do in terms of the eventual apprehension.

In the end, the audience does feel a little like the police officers after the arrest. Engaged and at peace, but somewhat discontented. 

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