Afsos review - Where too many ingredients spoil the broth

Afsos review - Where too many ingredients spoil the broth

A youngster Nakul is trying to get his eleventh attempt at suicide right. While trying to position himself on a railway track, he grabs hold of a pillow to ensure that his death is, well, comfortable. When this suicide bid is foiled by the man who owns the pillow, he heads to a psychiatrist and explains no one in the world ever deserves to live. He’s very practical about his decision to die, he looks at it as a solution. A poor student, a bad son who got his parents paralysed, a worse lover and a writer whose manuscript has been left unpublished for six years - Nakul has nothing to hold onto. Even the psychiatrist who’s a part of this conversation is puzzled by his clarity. One couldn’t have envisaged a better sequence to establish the ‘resolve’ of a quirky character in the first five minutes of a series. He even heads to an agency that could guarantee his death a few minutes later. While it takes great imagination to set up a plot of this kind, it requires greater skill to retain the fizz in the storyline. Afsos comes a cropper there. The other subplot here is contrastingly about immortality and an elixir that could help someone live forever. The elixir has a legacy of sorts, dating to the 18th century and has a preposterous connection with the Indian Independence too. There are murders by foreign corporations to grab hold of the magic potion that could provide immortality to people across the world. And there’s an assassin Upadhyay, who’s also a painter, treating her targets just like ‘business’. She’s meticulous about her killing, be it her timing or the absence of panic during her act. While it’s good as long as she doesn’t try to sell a sob flashback to justify her aggression, the makers ruin the element of mystery to her character and force her to explain the motive in the later sequences. She’s part of an agency who help people die in a mode of their choice. The other characters too are interesting - the priest willing to fulfil the last wish of his guru. the small-town cop who wishes to solve a case in a big city, his superior who makes the convicts sing at his station, the journalist who’s at loggerheads with her boss about publishing a story about immortality and the elixir. Anubhuti Kashyap, the director, despite the unconventional premise, fails to tie up these subplots together with conviction. While the paths of all these characters collide at some point, she doesn’t give a chance to emotionally invest in any of them. Some of the characters are just used for comic effect. It isn’t clear if the makers use the entire immortality and the magic potion thread as a parody or are they serious about it? The idea of a priest who says the blowing wind is a cue from nature to direct him towards an immortal human is interesting but isn’t explored well enough. The sequence where the priest and the protagonist ultimately meet the immortal character, who informs that living forever is a curse and not a blessing, should have arrived way earlier. A series of quintessential pre-climax fights aren't timed well. However, in terms of exploring the character of a psychiatrist and the efforts they take to ensure normalcy in the life of their parents is very impressive. Her verbal tact to make the patients feel one with her and altering her real-life incidents to suit their version of life are interesting attempts to present how psychiatrists go about their job. It’s a shame that many elements in the narrative are only used for decorative effect and nothing beyond. Thankfully though, the three-hour duration is a saviour. Most sequences are short, the protagonists are always on the move, the edits are sharp enough to distract you from issues in the script. The performances anchor the shaky narrative reasonably well. Gulshan Devaiah is increasingly making abnormal characters the new norm, project after project and he feels home in this unconventional space. Anjali Patil’s composure and still demeanour are integral to her portrayal in the plot and it’s hard to have imagined anyone else as effective. Sulagna Panigrahi is a surprise with her on-screen effervescence as a journo while the likes of Aakash Dahiya, Shyam Bhimsaria, bring enough diversity to their portrayal as cops. Heeba Shah presents the right amount of ‘unusualness’ in her performance as a psychopath, who sticks to her word has committed 86 murders in a row. Despite the limitedness of the backdrops, Afsos remains a decent visual experience, where the screenplay writer could have been less distracted about the various directions the plot takes. The cops are restricted to be passive caricatures who don’t do much to alter the proceedings. Afsos attempts to be unique but falls short. Rating: 2.5/5


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