July Issue 2013
A Royal Rivalry
Aurangzeb is the story of three young men who must learn to differentiate between black and white in a world that is increasingly grey. Two of the main characters are twins (Arjun Kapoor in a double role) who were separated from each other at a young age. Hot-headed Ajay lives with their father, Yashvhardan (Jackie Shroff), a nefarious real estate developer, while the more temperate Vishal lives with their mother, Veera. When the twins were children, Veera, in a bid to escape from the criminal world, became an informant for the police but was only able to take one child with her when she fled. To ensure that Yashvhardan did not try to hunt them down, police officer Vijaykant (Anupam Kher) staged their deaths in a police encounter and helped them rebuild their lives. Vijaykant and Veera eventually fell in love with each other and unbeknownst to his wife and son Arya, he continued a secret relationship with her until his death, treating Vishal as his own son. The audience slowly learns this back-story as the film progresses and Aurangzeb begins with the adult Arya, a police officer like all the other men in his family, as narrator.
While the reported deaths of Veera and Vishal tarnished his father’s career, Arya looks up to his prosperous uncle, Ravikant (Rishi Kapoor), a deputy commissioner in the police, as a role model. His devotion to his uncle is so blind that he very matter-of-factly states in his narration that while they might appear to be a family of officers, they are in fact a family of businessmen since they are part of an extensive ‘money collection’ network.
However, while on his deathbed, Vijaykant confesses to Arya about his secret life. Reluctantly, Arya meets the two only to be taken aback by Vishal’s resemblance to the well-known criminal Yashvhardan’s son. With the help of his uncle and Veera, he pieces together the past and they plot to infiltrate Yashvhardan’s empire by kidnapping Ajay and making Vishal pose as the former. While Arya and Vishal do this in the hopes of clearing Vijaykant’s name, Ravikant has other ulterior motives. It is Ravikant who frequently refers to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who had his own brothers killed in the fight for the throne, which lends the film its name.
With its mix of family drama and political intrigue, Aurangzeb is somewhat reminiscent of 1970s’ Bollywood. However, while the plot is rather melodramatic, the treatment of the film is anything but. Cinematographer Karthik Ganesh uses a highly controlled, subdued colour palette and the many shades of grey and brown visually signify how the characters are morally grey. Judging by the promotional material, the public could be excused for thinking that Arjun Kapoor is the star of the film when it is actually Malayalam actor Prithviraj Sukumaran as Arya who steals the show. Arya is a cold, taciturn character but Sukumaran’s performance is anything but emotionless as he delivers a highly nuanced performance — and that too in a language he is not fluent in. The supporting cast comprising Rishi Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Tanvi Azmi (as Veera) also turn in fine performances and Rishi Kapoor should fare well in the coming awards season. However, the subplot with Ajay’s girlfriend Ritu, played by Sasha Agha (daughter of Pakistani actor Salma Agha), was rather superfluous and although she is not a bad actress per se, Agha will more likely be remembered for her risquÃ© scenes than her acting.
Boasting a strong cast and a sophisticated aesthetic, Aurangzeb could have been a great film — but thanks to some clichÃ©d dialogue and filmi scenes it’s only a good one.
Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.