Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Rohan Mehra, Chitrangada Singh, Radhika Apte
Director: Gauravv Chawla
Name this film: a rookie stockbroker gets his wish of working with his hero, a shrewd millionaire trader famed for his relentless pursuit of wealth. The protégé rises fast under his idol’s mentorship, but sacrifices his integrity as part of his deal with the devil.
You’re thinking Wall Street, aren’t you? Well, I’ve just narrated the premise of Baazaar.
While ripping off the major beats of Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning drama, director Gauravv Chawla and his writers relocate the story from the cutthroat corridors of New York’s financial district to the cramped trading floors of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Saif Ali Khan slips under the skin of ruthless high-roller Shakun Kothari, who’s not so much the wolf of Dalal Street as he is a shark in sharply tailored suits. Swooping in to make the kill anytime he smells vulnerability, never sparing his friends even, Shakun is a man with a cash register in place of a conscience. Saif plays this self-made, self-taught millionaire as an ‘outsider’ who crashed the party and intends to stay till the booze runs out. His Shakun is suave and sophisticated even while executing hostile takeovers through underhand means, but frequently the veneer cracks to reveal his typically ‘angadia’ dimaag and Gujarati zubaan.
In comparison, the character of Rizwan Ahmed, the ambitious but impressionable small-towner who falls under the spell of the unscrupulous tycoon is a lot less interesting. This is your standard narrative of the poor misguided fellow seduced into selling his soul for a piece of the king-sized illusion, but newcomer Rohan Mehra takes an earnest stab at it.
First-time director Gauravv Chawla knows the world he’s putting on screen, taking us into those high-powered South Mumbai boardrooms and glamorous shindigs where tips are exchanged, rivalries ignited, and companies coldly traded. Some scenes pop, like one in which Shakun destroys a competitor even as a religious ceremony unfolds behind them. Or one in which he brazenly engages a regulatory officer who's raiding his premises in a cheeky joke.
But scenes like these are few and far between. A big problem is that the film is entirely predictable. The twists can be spotted from a mile away, and the plotting is strictly by-the-numbers. There are way too many songs that stretch the running time, and the filmmakers are unable to bring that tension needed to convey the anxiety of fluctuating stock prices.
Radhika Apte is an unlikely but inspired casting choice as Rizwan’s morally ambiguous colleague and girlfriend, and Chitrangada Singh is appropriately elegant as Shakun’s long-suffering wife, a role that demands little heavy lifting.
It’s Saif Ali Khan’s Gordon Gekko-esque character that is the strength of Bazaar. Saif does amoral characters especially well, and he turns Shakun Kothari into an utterly compelling cold-hearted villain.
Wall Street, with its “Greed is good” punchline, was a timely cautionary tale about the repercussions of limitless greed and ambition. Bazaar, although it makes the same point, does it in far too generic sort of way. It’s far from unwatchable; it just doesn’t demand that it be watched right away.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.