Hania Amir, Kubra Khan, Iqra Aziz at Parde Mein Rehne Do premiere

Directed by: Abhinay Deo
Producer by: Farhan Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Kangna Ranaut, Sarah Jane Dias
Music Dir: Shankar Ehsaan Loy

It's back to the theatres after a sabbatical. Game is crucial for Abhishek Bachchan. Also for director Abhinay Deo, this being his first release (though he had signed Delhi Belly much before he made Game). So let's figure out how exciting this game is.

Recall Vijay Anand's whodunit Teesri Manzil. Also recollect Vijay Anand's crime thriller Jewel Thief. Now reminisce Raj Khosla's suspense thriller Woh Kaun Thi?. Also revisit Biren Nag's eerie suspense saga Bees Saal Baad. Several decades and several screenings later, you still relish those films. These films worked for varied reasons. Melodious music. Taut screenplay. Most importantly, it was hard to guess the identity of the 'culprit' till the very end.

Hindi cinema is undergoing a major metamorphosis. But the rules of the game haven't changed. A whodunit should keep your interest alive till the penultimate moments. Besides, the identity of the killer/culprit should come as a shock, when the veil of secrecy is lifted. Also, the logic or rationale behind the goings-on needs to be convincing and relatable at the same time. Unfortunately, Game misfires on all three counts.

The problem with Game is manifold. First and foremost, first-time storyteller Abhinay Deo serves a slick-flick that's devoid of meat. It's all about narrating interesting stories and how convincingly do they translate on celluloid, but Abhinay seems to be under the notion that stunning locales and vibrant/energetic action pieces compensate for a tight/cohesive script. Nope, they don't!

Another problem with the film is that the screenplay (penned by Althea Delmas Kaushal) goes for a toss after an electrifying first hour. In fact, I'd go to the extent of saying that the first and second halves are diametrically opposite in terms of content and also the impact they leave. While the first hour succeeds in holding your attention thanks to the interesting twists and turns (never mind the slow pacing at times) and flows like a breeze, the second hour simply tests your patience. It's puzzling and confusing, with everyone pretending to be Sherlock Holmes.

Moreover, the second hour is formulaic and takes the most convenient route to reach the finale (more on that later). Agree, Hindi films abound in cinematic liberties, but the implausible screenplay takes not just the cake, but the bakery away. The finale is so weird and amateurish that one wonders, how did the director and such experienced producers approve it at the script level itself?

Game is a story of four strangers - Neil Menon (Abhishek Bachchan), O.P. Ramsay (Boman Irani), Tisha Khanna (Shahana Goswami) and Vikram Kapoor (Jimmy Sheirgill) - who have been invited by the reclusive billionaire Kabir Malhotra (Anupam Kher) to his private island of Samos, Greece.

A casino owner by profession, Neil has investments in various businesses, some legal and some not so legal. Ramsay is a politician from Thailand, who is running for elections. In fact, he is one of the most powerful men in Thailand. Vikram is a Bollywood superstar, recognized by all on the streets of India and Tisha is a crime journalist, with a career that is going nowhere.

None of these characters know each other and neither do they know the billionaire who has invited them to Samos and by the next morning they will wish they had never come.

Game bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dharmendra-Zeenat Aman starrer Shalimar and the more recent Luck, but the similarity is limited to a number of people congregating at one place. Actually, Game springs a surprise at the very start, with Anupam Kher spelling out the reasons for inviting the four people on his island. The turn of events thereafter, right till the conclusion of the first half, leave you impressed mainly due to the twists and turns that are hard to envisage.

But the turn of events in the second hour leaves you bewildered. Abhishek's character travels from Istanbul to Bangkok, then Mumbai the very next moment, executing the plan with flourish as if it was child's play. Difficult to absorb. Then comes a revelation: Abhishek's true identity, which is very filmi, very clich, very formula-ridden in fact, it seems straight out of 1960s and 1970s cinema, which is hard to absorb today. Much later, something happens to Shahana and all of them land up at Samos once again and the cat is out of the bag, finally. Sadly, the mystery no longer remains a mystery since one can easily guess the identity of the killer, much before the mystery is resolved. All I can say is that the writing becomes outlandish at this juncture.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy aren't composers you associate with such a genre and the musical score doesn't add weight to the goings-on. Ram Sampath's background score is eclectic. Kartik Vijay Thyagarajan's cinematography is top notch and the stunning locales of Greece, Istanbul, London and Bangkok give the film a spectacular look. Even otherwise, the production values are of highest order. Dialogue (penned by Farhan Akhtar) are well worded at places. The action and chase sequences are pulsating, especially the one filmed in Istanbul.

Game offers Abhishek ample opportunity to prove his mettle. He has delivered some really fine performances in the past (I'd like to single out Guru and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey in particular) and he gets it right in the first hour. But no actor can rise beyond a weak script and that's precisely why he looks far from convincing in the post-interval portions. Kangna acts well and though she seems to have worked on her dialogue delivery, she stills needs to get her diction right. Especially when she converses in English. Sarah Jane Dias looks lovely and for a first timer, makes a decent debut.

Anupam Kher doesn't really get ample scope, while Boman Irani is over the top this time. Jimmy Sheirgill has a miniscule role. Shahana Goswami is wasted, except in the lone sequence when she rebukes Anupam's claims. Gauhar Khan is alright. Mohan Kapur is first-rate. Benjamin Gilani is adequate. On the whole, Game is high on style, but low on substance. Disappointing!

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