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At least twice in D-Day, Rishi Kapoor’s character Goldman utters the phrase, “Everyone has a price,” as movie villains are wont to do. He fails to heed another truism that the Indian spies pursuing him know all too well: there’s a limit to every person’s utility. Reach yours, and you become expendable.
D-Day introduces the arms dealer Goldman at the start of his reign of terror in 1993. Twenty years and several hundred dead bodies later, India finally gets its chance to nab Goldman at his son’s wedding in Pakistan. India can’t afford to mount the kind of raid the Americans used to catch Bin Laden without risking all-out war, so Chief of Intelligence Ashwini (Nassar) — who’s days away from retirement, naturally — activates a sleeper agent he placed in Karachi years ago.
The agent, Valli (Irrfan Khan), has spent years establishing a life in Karachi, complete with his own barber shop, a wife, and a son. When called upon to do his duty for his country, he’s assisted by three other agents: explosives expert Zoya (Huma Qureshi), getaway driver Aslam (Aakash Daahiya), and cagey mercenary Rudra (Arjun Rampal).
The film shows the crew’s exciting capture of Goldman early on, before backtracking to their initial meeting. Events catch up to Goldman’s capture at the halfway point in the film and proceed from there. Predictably, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.
Even though D-Day contains certain clichéd spy-movie elements — the raid that doesn’t go as planned, the retiring chief — the movie is so well-constructed that it reminds us why those clichés exist. The chief is under a time limit; he has to see this through before he loses his power. If Goldman is captured without incident, there’s no second half to the movie.
D-Day so carefully executes the formula that the audience has come to expect that it’s able to turn some of those expectations on their heads. For example, the movie subverts the kind of romantic song-break familiar to Bollywood fans. Lovers stare longingly into each others eyes while romantic music plays, only one of the lovers is in the process of being brutally victimized by a third party. It’s so damned clever yet completely moving at the same time, that I found myself crying even while my jaw gaped in astonishment.
There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, but Irrfan and Rampal deserve special plaudits for their tense rivalry. Valli’s struggles with the fact that his loyalty to India could cost him his wife and son provoke the ire of misanthropic Rudra, who only begrudgingly accepts that he needs Valli’s knowledge of the local terrain.
D-Day also has a couple of strong female characters, and not in the current Hollywood sense of “strong” meaning a woman who is able to physically overpower men. Qureshi gets to do a bit of fighting, but her strength lies in keeping the crew on task while coping with fears that she’ll never see her husband again. Shruti Haasan has an important role as Pooja, a prostitute whom Rudra shacks up with to save money (rooms in Karachi brothels are apparently more affordable than hotels). Pooja knows Rudra will leave her like every other man she services does, but her eyes give away the faintest hint of hope.
While D-Day is an all-out entertaining spy thriller, it’s aware of the nuances of Pakistani-Indian relations. It makes it clear that victim-aggressor status is fluid and subjective, and it gives credit to the intelligence agencies of both countries for knowing that as well. When war is always a possibility, sometimes allowing your opponent to save face is the most prudent course of action.
Yay!!I am sure catching it now.It has been getting great reviews.
Btw this is your fourth ‘4 star’ film this year.Thats good,Innit?
And an indian film called ‘Ship of Theseus’ that released this week has opened to an almost unanimous extraordinary response.Has it released there yet?
I was really surprised by how good D-Day was, Anushka. I hope you like it, too!
I had just three 4-star movies in all of last year, but I’m on pace to fall short of my seven 3.5-star reviews from 2012. Should be interesting as we get into the second half of 2013. What really impressed me about my two recent 4-star reviews — Lootera and D-Day — is that I would feel comfortable recommending either movie to anyone no matter what country they hail from. They’re both smart, well-executed, and accessible movies: great examples of World Cinema.
No sign of Ship of Theseus in the U.S. yet. Still waiting on Bombay Talkies, too. They seem like two of the likely contenders for India’s official entry to the Oscars, so they may wait until fall/winter to release them theatrically here to stay fresh in the mind of Oscar voters.
Awesome Kathy. I’ve been a hardcore fan of Nikhil Advani’s since Kal Ho Na Ho, and am loving his most recent success track. There’s a guy who takes time with his movies. With him and Rakesh Omprakash Mehra both doing amazing this year… I’m overjoyed.
I like it when my filmmakers do well, even though I have no hand in their success or careers. 😐
I feel the same way, Shahid! I just like to see anyone who’s good at what they do get rewarded for it.
U’ve to watch Ship Of Theseus.
Ship Of Theseus is a beautiful near-masterpiece.
Thanks for the recommendation, Shivangi! I’m looking forward to seeing Ship of Theseus when it releases in the U.S., but there’s no release date yet.
Hey! Cathy good review of D Day. Just came to your site through IMDB and have read most of your movie reviews.
I would like to recommend a few more movies if u get a chance, do watch it and give your review. They would be Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic masterpieces such as Anand(1971) and Gol Maal(1979).
Thanks for the recommendations, Abhilesh, and welcome to the site!
Here’s a link to my review of Anand:
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Got a chance to watch it today. Unexpectedly good. I wonder what went wrong with this film on the box office. The treatment was excellent. Advanis best work. Shruti and rampal track was the highlight of the film. Poignant end to it but very well crafted.
I’m frustrated by this, too, Sami, because D-Day is great. In recent years, Yash Raj Films has given very quiet U.S. theatrical releases to some great films that deserved more hype, movies like D-Day, Aurangzeb, and Ishaqzaade. At least they made a big to-do about Shuddh Desi Romance. D-Day is available on DVD now, so maybe that will help it reach the audience it deserves.
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Okay I just watched d- day n this by far one of the best spy movie by Bollywood in long time, kahani still the #1 for me
Well you know y this movie didn’t do well on box office cauz this movie didn’t had the name brand name actor in it and most of the dumm stupid idiots don’t even know thing Bout good movie all they go c a name brand and then they make that movie super hit, how do you have son of sardar,chennai express and doom 3 do this good without even a damn any story, NOW That’s Really Fucked Up
Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. For anyone (in the U.S.) who hasn’t seen it yet, D-Day is available for streaming on Netflix and Spuul.
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