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The Body, Review: No soul

A murder mystery that moves slickly and logically is a rarity, and The Body initially engages you on both counts. You don’t mind the apparent red herrings that it throws along the way, as you wait with bated breath to see it all unravel. There is a terrible sense of disappointment, though, for the herrings are not herrings, and, moreover, only one of them is red. The film unravels some five of the twenty knots it ties, leaving the remaining fifteen knots not unravelled. Fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw yourself, The Body seems to say, and what the audience would like to say it is “We did not come here to write your screenplay.”

A Superintendent of Police, Jairaj Rawal, in Mauritius is woken up by a phone call late into the night because a body has disappeared from the Forensic Laboratory in Port Louis. He arrives to find the security guard badly shaken. On questioning, the guard insists that he saw the body standing behind the morgue door. CCTV footage of that night is not available, as somebody has stolen the camera’s hard disk. The cadaver was that of Maya Varma, owner of a pharma company, who had died earlier the same day, apparently of a heart attack. The SP summons her husband, Ajay Puri.

Ajay is having an affair, and all was not well between Maya and Ajay. Naturally, he is the prime suspect. The SP asks Ajay why he was not answering their calls. Ajay says he had gone out to buy an analgesic at a 24-hour chemist shop. SP asks him the name of the shop. Ajay does not answer. SP concludes he is lying, and his suspicion about Ajay being Maya’s killer grows, something he shares with his associates: Ajay must have stolen the body to avoid being found out at the autopsy the next day, he asserts. Ajay’s interrogation continues, during which footprints found in the premises are found to match the shoes that he is wearing. So, did Ajay kill Maya and did he steal her body?

The Body begins with a confession: the film is based on a Spanish film of the same name (translated), El Cuerpo, written by Oriol Paulo and Lara Sendim, and directed by Oriol Paulo. It was also remade in Kannada and Tamil, in 2016, as Game. It was even remade in Korean, in 2018, as The Vanished. An English-language remake, directed by Isaac Ezban, will be released in 2020. Maya was called Mayka in the original, Ajay was Alex and Jairaj was Jaime. Crime thrillers are director Jeethu Joseph’s favourite genre (remember Drishyam?). A mysterious or an unexpected death, and the consequences, have been the main premise of most of the films of this Malayalam director. Drishyam made the cut, while The Body does not cut any ice, even in the freezing mortuary.

With a ready work for reference, there was little likelihood of going astray, for if the original has gaping holes in the plot, why would you want to remake it? So, I might be right in assuming that the problems have arisen as a result of the changes made by Joseph and his writer(s). (Am unable to find out the names). For example, in the original, it is the coroner who conducts the investigation and the guard is hit by a car as he flees the morgue, slipping into a coma. These points are totally altered in the version at hand. There is the inconsequential role of Ajay’s sister, and whether it was there or not in the original, it is a waste of screen time. Nothing is there to indicate that the police have launched an extensive search for the missing body, which was a must, in the circumstances. Dialogue is purely functional, with no memorable lines. Dwelling on the failings of the script any more will result in spoilers, so we’ll let it rest in peace, which was denied to The Body.

Why Joseph chooses to portray Jai as a presumptuous, unkempt, haggard-looking cop is hard to comprehend. As is the way he treats Ajay’s mistress. She comes across as dumb, hyper-sensitive and uni-dimensional. When it is mentioned that Jai’s wife Nancy had died ten years ago in a car accident, and that he has never forgotten her for a moment, you know this fact will have a bearing on the climax. When Jai further declares that it was no accident, this prophecy is strengthened. And rightly so. The ease with which Joseph lets the plotter lead Ajay into trap after trap is too much to swallow, unless you believe in ghosts and ghouls. And if you do, why are you watching a murder mystery instead of a date with the phantoms and phantasms?

Its two stars keep The Body alive, though not kicking, with 67 year-old Rishi Raj Kapoor, cast as a much younger SP (unless they allow SPs to work beyond the age of 67 in Mauritius) and Syed Emraan Anwar Hashmi (40), playing a professor who could be anything from 30 to 40. Rishi Kapoor is by no means brilliant (he could not be, given the parameters), yet he infuses competence into his characterisation and never overacts. Emraan, despite a wig, looks charming and vulnerable, even as a murderer, but has no trademark hot, kissing scenes. Usually given roles where he perpetrates evil deeds, here he is at the receiving end of an investigator and a missing corpse, and although he is guilty of a major crime, he generates some sympathy for the part.

Sobhita Dhulipala as Maya uses her character trait of playing practical jokes to her advantage, yet that is about all she manages to do. She is no stunner, either. Debutante Vedhika Kumar plays the college-student/mistress, part caricature, part seductress, and passes muster. Arif Zakaria has a small role as an investigator. The other investigator has a stronger screen presence. No details are available about the other members of the cast, which includes Rukhsar Rehman.

Decent jobs are performed by the music director Clinton Cerejo (lyrics are predictable, though), cinematographer Satheesh Kurup and editor Ayoob Khan. Length is to the film’s advantage. In fact, one wishes the makers had taken an extra ten minutes to explain things, a kind of denouement, provided they had shot the links in the first place. It is surprising that a film dealing with adultery, murder, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, etc. has been given a UA certification, allowing those under 18 to see the film, if accompanied by adults.

Made to further the cause of the Mauritius Economic Development Board (EDB), it took almost 18 months for the film to find release, and for good reason. What the film lacks is reasoning. Another thing The Body sorely lacks is a soul.

Rating: **