Imagine I Saw the Devil with the fun stripped out, or The Horseman without actual choice, characters, or consequences. That is what John Day is.
John Day does a few things right. It stars the venerable Naseeruddin Shah in his best performance since Sona Spa. It is a straight up revenge thriller without any songs to interrupt the flow. It’s shot in some locations that have seldom, if not never been used in Bollywood thrillers. Some of the dialogues are good. We've now reached the end of the rosy section of this review.
The best thrillers are the ones with an imaginative protagonist, story or climax. There is absolutely nothing about the characters, story, or climax of John Day that is new, exciting or fun. Every single element of the film is borrowed from the Spanish film La Caja 507. In any case the story doesn't matter, and first time director Solomon mixes the Spanish film and Bollywood chestnuts for something that feels both bland and routine.
The protagonist (Shah) is out for revenge, hunting down the people who killed his daughter. He is so overcome with vengeance he procures a gun and goes from realizing everyone he loves is dead to shooting bad guys in about 30 seconds. That plot would have been fun had it not been for the fact that John Day is content with getting in its own way as much as possible. The film might work as a slice of bold cinema that goes against the commercial Bollywood route, but as a standalone movie it is maddeningly dull and bad. None of John Day’s ideas are fully explored, so the film feels like a series of check lists in a world that is hard to care about, in which a dull character is doing dull things against dull stock enemies using dull guns and dull investigative methods.
To lift the film from the constant dullness Solomon inputs loud blaring Gospel based music at every dramatic turn, with hilariously bad heavy handed Christian imagery. Someone is shot, and the chanting music kicks in; like RGV’s Govinda Govinda the chants here are JEEEESUS HOO HAA HOO HAAA. It's absurd and pointless. Why can't this film be subtle? What think tank members sat down and said that the only way to convey the Christian themes to the viewer is by beating up the protagonist in front of a Church and having him bleed on the cross? Why should a film that goes against Bollywood tropes embrace the very same tropes every now and then? You walk into this movie expecting something different and you’re treated with clunky formula that takes you out of the story.
The investigation that the protagonist does isn’t too exciting either – Shah simply ambles from point A to point B before the film tells you that he’s accomplished his mission. The only thing that adds tension to the film is the dynamics of Shah’s and Hooda’s characters hunting down each other. And even that isn’t explored much and it feels more like filler to justify the bloody violence. John Day also doesn't have a good way to make us empathize with the characters of Shah and even the corrupt cop of Hooda. There is no personality in them - they’re just cardboard cutouts with hackneyed problems of alcoholic spouses and the guilt of estrangement, both of which are clumsily established and severely underdeveloped. There’s a gamut of recognizable faces in the supporting cast including Vipin Sharma, Anant Mahadevan, Shernaz Patel, Makarand Deshpande yet none of them are memorable as such.
Moreover, the villains are so poorly sketched out its amusing. Sharat Saxena, in a laryngitis voice seems to be great big baddie, but a baddie with great integrity, and no one really explains why. But that's fine, you’re supposed to be content to just let Naseeruddin Shah slaughter baddies as he follows the clues. What really destroys the film is that even in the final hour it never feels like anything is at stake. The climactic scene falls completely limp because the story never makes you care about anything that's going on. The film never presented me a hook to continue watching and ultimately I could finish watching John Day because I am a huge film buff, and the process was a struggle. Most film viewers will be fine skipping it altogether.
(First published in Firstpost)