Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)

Did I exclaim “wow” at the beginning of the 2023 Bollywood murder mystery “Neeyat”? Yes! The film is set in a breathtakingly lavish castle built along the Scotland shore. However, once the setting changes and you aren’t looking at a grand building by a beautiful sea, the movie quickly becomes less and less impressive.

Directed by Anu Menon, who shares the writing credits with Advaita Kala and Girvani Dhyani, “Neeyat” follows billionaire Ashish Kapoor’s birthday bash at his Scottish castle with close friends and family. But the celebrations end with his death, and it is up to Detective Mira Rao (Vidya Balan) to nab the murderer.

Each character in the film is introduced with slow, stylish flourishes, and the death doesn’t even occur until almost half the runtime is over! It’s ridiculous how slow the story is, despite the plot being loosely based on an Agatha Christie mystery. There’s too much grandstanding in the dialogues when some more casual comedic banter would’ve made most scenes a lot more entertaining. Seems like the writers couldn’t decide if they wanted a fun murder mystery or a serious one, so instead they serve an awkward mash of the two.

Ram Kapoor plays the Vijay Mallya-style billionaire Ashish Kapoor (AK), whose business goes bust, and he is wanted in India for owing banks Rs 20,000 crore. While his employees are struggling and haven’t been paid salaries for two years, AK is living the high life, traveling in choppers and hosting birthday bashes for himself, albeit not as high-profile as before. Ram Kapoor’s portrayal of the billionaire lacked depth, and in fact, no one in the cast stood out significantly. Shefali Shah’s blink-and-miss cameo was arguably more engaging than everyone else’s role.

Neeraj Kabi and Dipannita Sharma play the married couple Sanjay and Noor Suri, respectively, who are best friends with AK and are also indebted to him for financially bailing them out multiple times. Rahul Bose plays AK’s bitter brother-in-law Jimmy, whose father handed over his inheritance to AK instead of his own son. Shashank Arora is AK’s rebel son Ryan, who brings along his new girlfriend, Gigi (Prajakta Koli), for the party just to upset everybody. Niki Walia is AK’s spiritual guide/tarot card reader, Zara, who trusts him excessively, even more than his girlfriend Lisa (Shahana Goswami), who is decades younger than him. Half of AK’s guest-list does seem to have some sort of motive to kill him, but a lot of things don’t make any sense until the very end of the film. And even then there are loose ends. Vidya Balan’s Mira Rao is the last unexpected addition to the party, she is a CBI officer sent from India to extradite AK.

Despite its inherently gorgeous setting, the cinematography and screenplay of “Neeyat” lacks character. The interiors of the castle have no personality and the dressing and hairstyles of the guests makes you feel like the story is set in the distant past even though it’s set in the time of Wi-Fi. Vidya Balan is styled in a bad fringe for no good reason, unless the idea is to push the stereotypical notion that investigative officers have no sense of style. Also, there were a lot of dimly lit scenes sprinkled through the runtime, which ruin the viewing experience. There’s very little Indian flavor in the events, everybody is boringly polished, disgruntled or sulking in their own world.

There are two good twists towards the climax, but by then you are already exhausted from the slow storytelling and tedious pacing. Even though “Neeyat” does have some enjoyable moments, overall, it’s a rather disappointing murder mystery. The movie comes across as too “wannabe”, with creators trying to ape Hollywood settings, instead of adding their own desi twists to the tale. Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2023 web series “Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley” exhibited far superior world-building in just its first episode. I draw this comparison only because it’s also based on an Agatha Christie mystery.

You can stream “Neeyat” on Prime Video.

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