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Film review: Rahasya is an absorbing and stylish Agatha Christie-style whodunit

Manish Gupta's murder mystery is inspired baggily by the Arushi Talwar case and wholly by Agatha Christie whodunits.

Manish Gupta’s Rahasya was initially publicised as a dramatisation of the 2008 double murder of teenager Aarushi Talwar and her domestic worker Hemraj, for which her parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar have been convicted. The Talwars have filed an appeal against their conviction and also unsuccessfully attempted to block Rahasya’s release, arguing that there were too many similarities between the movie and the circumstances that led to the deaths of Aarushi and Hemraj.

Rahasya appears to have borrowed some features of the double murder (the mode of the killings, the occupation of the prime suspect) to generate media interest in a movie that is actually a classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit, down to the climactic sequence in which Kay Kay Menon’s Central Bureau of Investigation officer Sunil herds all the characters together into one room and identifies the killer.

Rahasya is set in a plush Mumbai penthouse with split levels and several layers of murkiness. Ayesha, the teenaged daughter of doctor couple Sachin and Aarti Mahajan (Ashish Vidyarthi and Tisca Chopra), is discovered by their maid Remi (Ashwini Kalsekar) on her bed, her throat slit. The domestic worker, Chetan, is missing.

Sachin Mahajan is an instant suspect, but the deeper Sunil digs, the wider the circle of suspicion becomes. We are in well-trodden genre territory, with a doggedly honest and occasionally acerbic investigator, a small set of characters, each of whom is implicated in some way or the other, and a motive that has to do with morality rather than greed. Sunil's tactics include brute force (custodial interrogations being an integral part of Indian sleuthing) and Holmesian deduction.

Familiar territory that holds some surprises

Gupta is an alumnus of Ram Gopal Varma’s filmmaking school and the director of The Stoneman Murders and Hostel. Whatever parallels there are with the actual double murder disappear once the plot kicks in. Rahasya is far from being an exploitative flick ‒ rather, it's a taut and stylish affair, which gives no quarter to extraneous elements such as songs and sub-plots over its 125 minutes. Most of the elements click into place like they would in a near-perfect crime: Gupta’s sure-footed pacing of suspense and mystery, Faroukh Mistry’s elegant and atmospheric camerawork, Suresh Pai’s surgical editing, Ranjit Barot’s suitably sinister background score and effective use of actual locations in Mumbai.

Some of the acting tilts on the broad side and the denouement feels too smooth and depends on a fair degree of suspension of disbelief. But even the closing moments hold a surprise. It’s written on the murderer’s face, and it’s a fitting end to an absorbing yarn of crime and punishment.

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