Neeyat (“Motive“) draws from classic mystery stories, though it falls short of becoming a classic itself.
Ram Kapoor plays AK, a wealthy industrialist on the run from the Indian government due to shady financial dealings. He hasn’t paid his employees in two years, leading to at least eight suicides by people on his payroll suffering financial distress.
AK gathers his closest friends and family members at his Scottish castle — the eerily named Highgrave Manor — to celebrate his birthday. Everyone invited is subsidized by AK in one way or another, whether it be the boarding school tuition he pays for his niece Sasha (Ishika Mehra) or the jewels he buys his much-younger girlfriend Lisa (Shahana Goswami). They all depend on him to maintain their lavish lifestyles.
As a dangerous storm closes in, event manager Tanveer (Danesh Razvi) sends the rest of the staff home before the only bridge leading to the castle is raised, stranding everyone there for the night — but a late arriving guest reveals AK’s ulterior motives. AK announces at dinner that he plans to turn himself and all of his remaining assets over to the Indian authorities, and that CBI officer Mira Rao (Vidya Balan) is there to take him into custody the following morning when her cohorts from Scotland Yard arrive.
This causes an uproar as the guests realize that their gravy train is about to derail. All of them have reason to stop AK from carrying out his plan. When he falls over a cliff to his death, officer Mira tries to determine which of the guests turned murderer.
There are lots of characters (in the colloquial sense) among the characters, played to varying degrees of success. Kapoor’s AK is boisterous, but not over-the-top. Same cannot be said for Rahul Bose’s depiction of AK’s hard-partying, bisexual brother-in-law Jimmy, whose big reactions border on cartoonish.
Subtle performances from Goswami as the current girlfriend, Shashank Arora as AK’s neglected stepson Ryan, Dipannita Sharma as AK’s former flame Noor, and Neeraj Kabi as Noor’s husband Sanjay steady the film and help to maintain movement as the investigation into AK’s death kicks into gear.
The big question mark among the characters is Mira. She’s part quirky detective and part taciturn loner, and Balan never quite hits the right tone to make her feel believable. Due to Mira’s penchant for describing the situation with technical specificity, one of the characters refers to her as a “walking encyclopedia.” It’s a nod in the direction of a brainiac detective like Sherlock, but she lacks his charisma.
Further, writer-director Anu Menon shows some of Mira’s tics — like her periodically eating butterscotch hard candies — that seem like they are going to meaningful but ultimately aren’t. The thing about detective stories is that the audience has been trained to pay attention to the smallest details, making the choice of what to include in the narrative crucially important. If something isn’t going to be either a clue or a red herring, leave it out.
That said, the setting — an isolated castle in Scotland on a stormy night — is evocative, making the whole film feel very comfortable for genre fans. While not perfect, Neeyat does what it needs to do to meet the needs of mystery aficionados.
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