Although the last photograph of him in public records dates back to over 20 years ago, Dawood Ibrahim remains an endlessly fascinating character, particularly for our filmmakers who never seem to run out of script ideas involving India’s most wanted terrorist. Nikhil Advani’s D-Day is the latest, a promising action thriller constructed around the long-cherished dream of capturing Dawood, the principal accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case.
The role of Dawood himself, referred to in this film as Iqbal Seth, and nicknamed Goldman, is played creepily by Rishi Kapoor sporting a moustache and rose-tinted shades. We first see him in the film’s terrific opening sequence, arriving for a wedding celebration at a Karachi hotel, where, despite heavy security, an audacious plan to nab him is underway.
The film’s crisp first-half, much of it unfolding in flashback, sets up the drama nicely. The chief of India’s Research & Analysis Wing (or R&AW) has put Operation Goldman into motion, following another blast in India masterminded by the terror monger who is staked out in Pakistan. A covert team of undercover agents Wali (Irrfan Khan), Rudra (Arjun Rampal), Zoya (Huma Qureshi), and Aslam (Akash Dahiya) have been tasked with ferreting out Iqbal as he gets ready to attend his son’s wedding.
Meshing fact with fiction, often sacrificing logic for thrills, the briskly paced script (co-written by Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, and Advani) slows down routinely to show us the agents in their downtime with family and lovers, even as they flesh out their grand plan collectively. Rudra takes up with a melancholic prostitute (Shruti Haasan) in a red-light district, while Wali is deeply committed to his young son and wife (played with aching vulnerability by Sreeswara).
D-Day, with all its gritty action, hand-held camerawork and frenetic editing, is still closer in spirit and tone to Ek Tha Tiger and Agent Vinod than Zero Dark Thirty. The film can’t escape typical jingoistic traps, and doesn’t think twice of forsaking realism for filmi heroism. So our undercover heroes get into a public scrap with an ISI agent in broad daylight, and in one spectacularly silly scene, Rudra follows a man who had disfigured his lover’s face and stabs him brutally to death in a garage, evidently unconcerned about raising suspicions.
But if you’re willing to sidestep niggling problems like the rapidly rising body count they leave in their wake, and the apparent ease with which our heroes secure ammo in Pakistan, you’ll note the film’s second half raises some interesting points, including the very real conundrum of secret agents who’re abandoned by their governments in hostile lands after failed operations. There’s also one remarkably filmed song in which Advani takes one of our protagonists through a bloody massacre of a loved one, as if it were happening before his very eyes. It’s portions like these that elevate the film from the ordinary, and much credit must also go to its committed cast.
No praise is enough for the chameleon-like Rishi Kapoor, who adapts himself to the film’s two very different tones, and offers a performance that is menacing and hammy in all the right places. The talented Huma Qureshi is under-utilized here, but plays her part competently. A quick mention also of Chandan Roy Sanyal who is deliciously sadistic as Iqbal’s nephew and right-hand man. But the film is a showcase for its two male leads. Irrfan Khan excellently conveys the quiet desperation of a man torn between family and mission, and Arjun Rampal does some of his best work here as the rebellious agent simmering with pent up anger.
D-Day is far from perfect, but as pulpy Bollywood action films go, it’s very watchable and works its strengths. The film’s ending, controversial and melodramatic to say the least, nevertheless sits comfortably with the wish-fulfilment fantasy that Advani’s milking. I’m going with three out of five. It’s worth a watch; you won’t be bored.