The three themes of Munish Bhardwaj’s debut are evident in the title: there is temptation, deception and wads of Rs 500 notes stuffed into suitcases.
Moh Maya Money, written by Bhardwaj and Mansi Nirmal Jain, is about two kinds of rug-pulling. The first involves Delhi real-estate broker Aman (Ranvir Shorey) and his chic television-producer wife Divya (Neha Dhupia), and the other involves the viewers. Aman has been skimming off money from lucrative land projects represented by his company, while Divya has her share of skeletons. Both worlds collide when Aman’s scam is discovered. When his nasty debtors start paying visits, Aman comes up with a plan that requires Divya’s reluctant cooperation.
But things are never what they seem to be. The conceit of parallel lives and a parallel economy is delivered through a nifty editing trick. The events are first seen from Aman’s point of view and then repeated to reflect Divya’s perspective. Until the end of the first half, Moh Maya Money is well poised as a twisty neo-noir on the banality of corruption. Aman is a likeable broker who is part of an ecosystem of graft in the capital of speculative capital. He is no more or less corrupt than the next man in his company, and Ranvir Shorey superbly conveys his character’s anguish when he is exposed. Aman is not a villain, merely an unlucky man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Divya is more opaque, and not always by design. Bhardwaj keeps Divya’s secret under wraps until unveiling it at the opportune moment. But apart from creating a moment of surprise, the big revelation doesn’t add any layers to Divya’s character or explain her subsequent actions any better. Divya’s involvement in the moh and maya of the title remain under-explored and unconvincing.
The second half gets unwieldy with numerous twists and coincidences. The 109-minute movie loses its momentum even as it tries to speed up matters. The climax is guided by one of the oldest tricks in the scriptwriting manual. It involves a loaded gun, and we know what needs to happen in a movie once a weapon is introduced.
Moh Maya Money is well-timed to weigh in on the black money debate, and Bhardwaj’s point about the manner in which corruption is both financial and moral is an important one. The message matters, but the delivery isn’t always efficient.