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With its lead players putting up pretences throughout the film, it is easy to label the film pretentious. To be fair, it is not pretentious. There is an element of sincerity in the making. My Client’s Wife is potentially full of sexual encounters, only the makers have been careful to keep it ‘clean’. But as is the problem with psychological thrillers, there are too many red herrings and deviations from the plot just to cause shock and awe. Is it based on a true story? The makers would like us to believe so. Which makes it all the more incredible. Truth stranger than fiction?

Raipur, Chhattisgarh is the location. Except for the fact that such a story might survive better in a small town, there is nothing particular about the location. A woman, Sindoori Singh, is packing her things, burning some photographs, and leaving. Upstairs, there is somebody who is tied up and yelling, apparently her husband, Raghuram Singh. She escapes. The husband is arrested on charges of domestic violence, although he has severe bruises in his hands, caused by a large knife. He has his own version of events, which he narrates to Inspector Shrivastav and Manas Verma, his advocate, while behind bars.

Shrivastav’s investigation leads him to believe that there was a cable TV man who was in the house when Raghuram arrived, and he attacked Raghuram, in order to escape. Since then, he is absconding. Manas Verma decides to investigate the case himself, and meets Sindoori in this connection. She tells him a cock and bull story. Again, Raghuram keeps telling him to read his diary for evidence, and for some unexplained reason, he does not do so till much later. He tells him that his wife is a nymphomaniac, and brings strangers home in his absence. His version (or versions) are no less cock and bull than Sindoori’s.

Story, screenplay and dialogue writer and director Prabhakar Meena Bhaskar Pant (the name includes his parents’ names) is a self-learned filmmaker and likes tell stories the way he wants to watch a film. He watches few films, so that he does not get influenced by someone else’s stories or narration style. He started my career by making a few short films and his 3 short films have been watched by 190Million (19cr) people across the world. My Client’s Wife is his debut feature film. He is inspired by film-makers like Raj Khosla (Who Kaun Thi?, Mera Saaya, Mera Gaon Mera Desh) and Vijay Anand (Guide, Jewel Thief, Johnny Mera Naam).

The script raises a lot of questions for the major part of the film, and answers only a few, in rapid-fire, at the end. After seeing this auteur film, you come out feeling that you have been conned. The material is very thin: a man fixated with external variety in his marital sexual life. Such a subject would jell if it had a high dose of sexuality to go with it. Stopping at variation in mere looks and garb is hardly likely to set cinemas on fire. Dialogue is too crisp and pat. There is no attempt to make it colloquial or spontaneous. This could also be the result of long workshops and repeated rehearsals.

Screenplay and direction is a blend of original stuff plus chunks of inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese classic, Rashomon and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Minor characters, like the gardener and the security guard are given undue importance, which is never justified. For no reason at all, Sindoori walks a mile to a construction site and climbs a hundred stairs. The scenes featuring a human shadow behind a curtain foreboding impending mayhem are used once too often. Every time there is about to be a seduction, the woman just pushes the man, who is sitting on the edge of the bed, and as he falls back, the scene is cut. There are one or two other ‘positions’, but one misses variations on a theme.

Anjali Patil (Sindoori) is already a veteran, and is well-used in the film. Her dark looks add to the sombre proceedings. But the thing about spontaneity applies here, as it does to Sharib Hashmi (Manas Verma). Given the design of the film, his is a more difficult role, and he does justice. Abhimanyu Singh (Raghuram Singh) fits the fill both physically and performance-wise. He speaks a bit fast, but that is part of the persona. Gireesh Sahdev as Inspector Shrivastav does a good job. Vishal Om Prakash as the Security guard has a less defined role, but stays in character. Mazhar Sayed as the cable TV guy makes good of the opportunity to show his talent. As the gardener, Dipesh Shah gets a poorly written role and is unable to impress. Appearing in the final scene, the real Sindoori Singh, Anushkaa Singh, is easy on the eye. Not much use is made of the Special Appearance of the folk singer Teejanbai. With all-round good performances, we expected better results.

The glimpses of Raipur, including a night shot, give a bit of information about the small town. Indoors, Chandrashekhar Yadav has to create colours and images that are eerie, and he succeeds in doing that. Original background score by Sanchit Balhara is in keeping with the needs of the film, and sync sound by Sanjay Chaturvedi is well-matched. Audiographer K. Sethuraman has captured all necessary sound, and maybe a few unnecessary ones as well. As Director of Photography, Mazhar Kamran has to deal with a serious problem: of varying light in the middle of shots, and sometimes in entire scenes, and I am not talking about the flickering bulbs, which gimmick remains one. Otherwise, he captures the night effects and mood lighting effectively. The version I saw was six minutes longer than the one released. This factor was never under consideration. The film is not so much long as it is lop-sided. It needed a shorter first half and a longer second half. Excision of a few minutes is not going to change the perception of the film by much.

True story or not, the film constantly mentions terms like ‘nymphomaniac’, ‘coveting another’s wife’, but is tepid when it comes to sexual content. And pray, why the title in English? My Client’s Wife? There is minimal use of English in the  dialogue.

Apparently, the maker felt that a subject like this lends itself to a drama like production, as was Rashomon, plus a knife-shower scene, a là Psycho, and could be an ode to the two landmarks on celluloid.

But what you see is not what you get, which, in the end, could be summarised as My Wife’s Knife.

Rating: **