Rustom is a baffling movie.  The basic plot is taken from the sensational Nanavati case, which took place in Mumbai in 1959.  The real life incident had all the elements of a great story – love, heroism, betrayal, murder, honour, adultery.  It was also so morally complex and powerful that artists continued to retell it on screen, stage and books. Two Hindi films – Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke and Achanak – have already been made on it. But from this inspiring material, director Tinu Suresh Desai has created a somewhat uninspired film.

Writer Vipul K. Rawal unabashedly borrows the characters from the Nanavati case.  We have Rustom Pavri, the decorated officer who comes home and discovers that his beautiful wife is having an affair with his friend.  Just like Nanavati, Rustom fires three bullets into the man’s chest and then surrenders.  He is tried in court in front of a jury.  But public opinion, whipped up by a newspaper publisher, is on Rustom’s side.  He is, as one of the jurors says, an honorable murderer.

Even the details in the film come from the real life crime.  Nanavati’s wife was Sylvia.  Rustom’s wife is Cynthia. Like the real life lover Prem Ahuja, Vikram Makhija in the film dies wearing only a towel.  The officer in charge in the film is Vincent Lobo – the real guy was named John Lobo. Tinu and Vipul blend the facts with some fictional masala tadka.  It’s a compelling idea but the result is a half-baked drama.  Rustom has flashes of power, which peters out too quickly.

To begin with, the screenplay is inert, especially in the first half.  The second half, which is almost entirely set in a courtroom, has more vigour. Usha Nadkarni, playing Rustom’s maid, gets a standout moment.  But the world in Rustom never fully comes to life because the characters don’t feel authentic.  The women – Ileana D’Cruz and Esha Gupta – flit around in fifties fashion.  I spent some time marveling at the rigid curls in their hair.  Esha, playing Vikram’s sister, keeps narrowing her eyes and pursing her lips.  I wonder if her inspiration was Angelina Jolie from Maleficent.  For reasons I couldn’t figure out, the film is saturated in lurid colours.  So walls are bright green and blue, cheeks are red.  Everyone looks a little ripe.

Still, Akshay cuts a dashing figure in his naval uniform.  His erect spine is shorthand for a man of duty and determination. But his character doesn’t have vulnerability or an arc.  There is one nicely done jail scene when Rustom meets Cynthia for the first time after the murder.  He grips his own arms tightly so that he doesn’t hug her.  It’s sad and moving.  The film is brave enough to give us a man who is so evolved that he understands and forgives his errant wife.  But instead of exploring the dynamics of this, we get lost in heroism, corruption and courtroom dramatics.  And truthfully, the only thing Parsi about Akshay is the name Rustom.

I’m going with two stars.

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