In Footfairy, director Kanishk Verma attempts to deliver a classified noir thriller rooted in the cultural reality of India. It is a story of a serial killer, recognized only by his black hoodie and khaki pants, in a city that is so famed for its busy, relentless life that the very essence of the city is not hindered by a few women being strangled to death and put in a suitcase with their foot chopped up.
The film succeeds in moments. It finds the core of its genre quite impressively in the fabric of Indian diaspora. The setting is quite good, and the opening sequence is worthy enough to set the mood of the narrative. The antagonist is a black void hiding behind a hoodie, and the narrative quickly jumps to Vivaan Deshmukh (a fantastic Gulshan Devaiah), a CBI officer, introduced to us quite clumsily as the Sherlock Holmes of the Central Bureau of Investigation. It is a big title to live up to. A classic case of a fictional character thrown out lazily, only to weigh the character, and the narrative, under the expectation of such a heavy claim.
The rest of the film runs on a thin premise, pulling one red-herring after another, hoping that the noise will hide the fact that essentially, Vivaan Deshmukh is quite a naïve, unworthy detective. He runs after a taxi-driver theory that looks wrong from a mile away, and then pulls out the clichéd “gut feeling” logic to fulfill his overall arc as a Hindi film protagonist.
This does not mean the narrative does not intrigue a forgiving audience. Devaiah, brilliant as ever, does everything to keep the film interesting. He does so for a long time, but eventually fails to raise the material past its obvious flaws. One of the biggest being the character of Vivaan, that is painted with broad strokes and the most repetitive, rehearsed cop clichés. So there is a teenage girl that he shares an almost father-daughter relationship with, and a girlfriend (Sagarika Ghatke), who exist simply to provide the narrative with one of the many twists and give the protagonist an emotional core.
Beyond him, there are few characters the film lets us invest in. There is just one obvious prime suspect, that you as a regular viewer of the genre expect to have the very arc he ends up having. There are, thankfully, no subplots or distracting visuals of a dragged romance, but the pace of the chase remains curiously slow for a thriller.
Footfairy is the kind of film that powers itself with its climax. It tries to tag the audience along, hoping that the end would redeem all its previous misgivings. But narratives – especially thrillers – cannot work that way. The climax cannot be the sole reason behind two hours of chase. It is the chase that gives purpose to the climax, not the other way round.
This is the trap where Footfairy falls, making it watchable, but never memorable. It is a decent attempt at a certain kind of murder mystery that has little presence in a culture obsessed with a complete arc, a satisfying, satiable end. But with the kind of atmosphere the film sets early in the narrative, and an intriguing title that finds little meaning in the larger context of the film, the film dissolves into an unmemorable viewing experience, despite a terrific Gulshan Devaiah.
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