Gordon Gekko, the protagonist in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, famously declared that, “Greed is good.” That mantra is turned on its head in writer-director Munish Bhardwaj’s Moh Maya Money, in which greed destroys the comfortable lives of a middle-class Delhi couple.
Aman (Ranvir Shorey) is a smooth talking broker who aspires to become the king of the real estate market someday. Nothing wrong with that ambition, except that he cheerfully scams his own company and his boss to feather his nest. Divya (Neha Dhupia), a senior producer at a news channel, is his unsuspecting wife, who we find out has secrets of her own.
Their lives unravel when Aman’s boss catches him swindling the firm and fires him from his job. Left to return an obscene amount of money – that he doesn’t have – to a dangerous thug, Aman seeks Divya’s help in committing a white-collar crime. Before they know it, they find themselves stuck in a quagmire of guilt, corruption, murder, and betrayal.
Bhardwaj sets up a recognizable milieu and his characters speak like real people. We’re pulled into the lives of his protagonists, and we can sympathize with their tragic errors as the narrative alternates between their perspectives. But in its second half the film stumbles. Even as the noose around their necks tighten, the writing never feels urgent enough. The same characters who felt refreshingly real initially start talking and behaving like characters in a film, and logic is left by the wayside. As a result, it’s hard to remain invested in them as their situations worsen.
For the most part, the film benefits from its fine performances. Ranvir Shorey is terrific as Aman, a man who continues to push his luck long after he ought to have learned that what goes around inevitably comes around. Neha Dhupia doesn’t disappoint either as the wife caught between her husband’s lies and her own. In smaller roles, both Dev Chauhan as the goon who wants his money back from Aman, and Vidushi Mehra as the pregnant woman Divya befriends, do impressive work.
Moh Maya Money is both a cautionary tale about a middle class desperate to get ahead in a capitalist society, and an occasionally chilling noir that unfolds in a busy metropolis. The actors make the most of the material, which is frankly compelling for a good part of this film. The tragedy, alas, is that it could have been so much more. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.