One of the attractions of Agatha Christie-written, Rian Johnson-co-opted whodunnits like Knives Out is the overt messaging of the indictment of the elites. Through sharp, incisive dialogues and complete obliviousness to how the real world chooses to operate, the elite characters in these worlds are victims and yet aren’t targets of sympathy. Rather, there is a clear demarcation between empathizing with these characters and feeling tinges of sympathy for them.

The Homi Adjania-directed Murder Mubarak feels very much inspired by that template. The location too feels curiously apt—the elites of South Delhi, with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Adjania has always been characterized as a stylist, where underlying messaging doesn’t exist, so much as brimming within the stylization itself. The introduction of each of the characters is accompanied by the names written in English, the nickname between the name and surname, bracketed by quotes, and written in Devanagari script, with the overall font having the color of bright tacky gold. One could characterize that as tacky and overt, but one could also characterize Adjania as intentionally leaning into the irreverent nature of the material. Thus, the opening red herring of a cat and her owner being murdered is very much part of the raucous nature of this elite gang, preferring to revel in their performativeness until an actual murder occurs in the Royal Delhi Club.

The accused, Leo Matthews, and his intertwinement with the rest of this motley crew form the bulk of the investigation led by ACP Bhavani (Pankaj Tripathi). Also assisting him with questionable motivations beyond resuming a paused relationship are the “good boy” Akash Dogra (Vijay Verma) and the rebellious recently widowed Bambi Todi (Sara Ali Khan). If that resembles Knives Out in its structure, fear not, because your instincts are correct. However, unlike Benoit Blanc, ACP Bhavani has a much more active presence, and his genial demeanor belies the sharp, incisive takedown that the script supposedly tries to channel through its mixture of broad comedic sensibilities and sarcasm-infused barbs. For the most part, they work, but because this is also a full-blown Bollywood presentation, it produces additional caveats.

The runtime of the movie might give any viewer pause, and for good reason. However, Bollywood, in its very nature, provides a lens for vicarious living through its pulpy storytelling. Thus, even if Murder Mubarak had been designed as a takedown of the elites, it never fully became one because it chose to focus on the romance and chemistry between Khan and Verma, choosing to give it more texture and structure than all the added characters of the ensemble. The advantage is, of course, that it brings nuance to character interactions. The disadvantage is not entirely focusing on the very gifted ensemble Adjania has in his sandbox. As a result, performers like Tisca Chopra feel shafted, with Dimple Kapadia in a role that could effectively be described as a cameo.

However, one cannot deny that there is fun to be had while enjoying and imbibing this twisty, plotted mystery, because the plotting of the film lends itself to the knotty nature of its inspirations. However, its presentation is where the movie fails because of its inconsistent nature. On the one hand, some of the transitions, split screens, and gorgeous colored hues envelop the framework, giving it a distinctive color palette. On the other hand, the movie carries with it a slipshod feel, especially in its climax. While the underlying idea is fascinating, about how the perception of wealth and power becomes much more essential than the wealth itself, it never truly becomes a scathing indictment of elitism. The final revelation of the killer, albeit with a lot of voiceover from both the killer and the investigator, feels very much like a product of a reshoot. It is almost as if writers Suprotim Sengupta and Gazal Dhaliwal had one ending in their minds until the last days of production. The limited budget being allocated to reshoots led to the pivoting of the revelation, complete with a new flashback section to boot. Unfortunately, it’s in these flashback sections that the weak acting threatens to derail and almost pull you out of the movie. The acting overall, though, remains pretty consistent, with standouts being Pankaj Tripathi in a low-key performance (offset by a very broad comedic background score), Tisca Chopra, and Dimple Kapadia both hamming their hearts out in the limited space afforded to them. The surprise, though, is Sara Ali Khan’s performance, which is her strongest performance in years. It’s still inconsistent, but perhaps there is a restraint to her performance that feels vastly different from her previous roles that she had essayed.

Murder Mubarak works for the most part primarily because, for whodunnits with a mostly irreverent tonality, there needs to be a faster pace within the narrative. Considering how material like this is mostly restricted to 10-episode limited series with a longer and saggier runtime, a 141-minute runtime with knotty storytelling is a welcome change of pace. Or perhaps it is just the lowest expectations one has from the Hindi film industry that leads a reviewer to be more forgiving. You are the judge.


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