December 9, 2023 05:45:38

Review of Vishal Bhardwaj’s mystery film Charlie Chopra & the Mystery of Solang Valley: The pulpy and observant cast

Review of Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley After finishing the Shakespeare trilogy with one of the best Hindi whodunits, Vishal Bhardwaj turns to Agatha Christie.
Any text you give Vishal Bhardwaj will acquire a life of its own. He’s a genius at adaptations, from his William Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider) to Ruskin Bond’s Susanna’s Seven Husbands (Saat Khoon Maaf). Now, he turns his focus to one of the best crime novels of all time, Agatha Christie. And the fact that he doesn’t let us down yet again is a big praise.

Notes on adaptation

Vishal adapts Agatha’s 1931 British book The Sittaford Mystery and puts it in Himachal Pradesh’s Solang Valley and Manali. But the only visual parallels between the altered text and the original one are the snow-capped mountains and the old-world mansions.

The ethnic diversity of India benefits the characters’ and their backgrounds’ local taste. Charlie Chopra (Wamiqa Gabbi), a Punjabi woman betrothed to Jimmy (Vivaan Shah), an entrepreneur who has been detained for the death of his maternal uncle, Brigadier Rawat (Gulshan Grover), is the investigator looking into the crime.

It turns out that Gulshan, who has a reputation for always being portrayed as the “bad guy,” was the one who died in this incident. The actor’s refined demeanour and inherent depravity give him a supernatural intrigue that permeates the entire plot.

Speaking of haunting, those of you who viewed the show’s June pilot episode will be aware that it opens with a supernatural/horror component. A spirit that protects the Solang Valley is called Lady Rose by Roy (Naseeruddin Shah), a paranormal investigator, who then declares Rawat dead.

That moment seems like it might have been taken right out of a play thanks to Naseer’s intense histrionics, the bizarre costumes by costume designer Abhilasha Sharma, and the staging by cinematographer Tassaduq Hussain. Although Charlie Chopra’s opening scene is theatrical in nature, Agatha’s novel also began with a table-turning session, making it very obvious that this is not a supernatural murder mystery. We observe that the other players in the room share our enjoyment and scepticism towards the mumbo jumbo because it is over a century after the original text.

Shattered the fourth wall
Charlie breaking the fourth wall is yet another effective theatrical device utilised by co-writers Vishal, Anjum Rajabali, and Jyotsna Hariharan. Before donning the detective hat and starting to track down the groom’s stolen jootis, Charlie makes a memorable entrance by dancing in a baaraat. We don’t see her break the fourth wall with a Punjabi curse until she gets a call regarding his fiancé’s incarceration.

Wamiqa resembles Charlie, an inherited detective who was well-trained by her estranged mother (look out for that cameo), in appearance and temperament. However, she occasionally misses the mark when she drops the sister di gaalis or gives us explanation in the middle of a scene. Charlie Chopra is simply a baby step in the direction of the Fleabags because this format is still relatively fresh to Indian sensibilities.

Making the case for breaking the fourth wall weaker is journalist Sitaram (Priyanshu Painyuli), a fellow investigator. Instead of bouncing theories with us, Charlie always talks about the details of the inquiry with him.

When she asks us to look away while changing her clothing and when she closes the door on us after an uncomfortable incident, the tactic does elicit immediate reactions. By challenging their nosy gaze, those two examples engage the viewers in a true participatory experience.

Stories of the suspects
The unique selling point of Charlie Chopra & the Mystery of Solang Valley is the way Vishal skillfully blends the background stories of each character into the course of the investigation. Every suspect in this whodunit has a reason, as well as the means and the will to carry it out, which gives it wings. Only the person who jumped at that precise moment turned out to be the murderer.

Throughout Charlie’s inquiry, we encounter a number of subplots that have the potential to stand alone as short stories. There’s a physically-challenged Parsi woman (Ratna Pathak Shah), a no-nonsense ill-tempered boy (Imaad Shah), a struggling writer (Chandan Roy Sanyal) and his wife with a beauty parlour (Paoli Dam), a dialysis-bound former soldier (Danish Aslam), a retired army general, a Muslim single woman (Lara Dutta) and daughter, your regular genial mama and mami (Neena Gupta), and the most obvious suspect – the house help and his wife (Hiba Shah).

To put it mildly, all of their plots are interesting, and like any lavish whodunit, all paths lead to murder. Every character has so much potential that I would have loved weekly installments of hour-long episodes featuring one suspect each rather than having them hurried through a three-hour plot. Think of a movie like Only Murders in the Building. I hope you’re listening, Vishal Bhardwaj, if there is a Season 2?

The trailer’s razor-sharp editing lends a layer of drama and tension to the proceedings. It is laced with deft cueing and willful deception. You can spot the murderer in the caravan from a few yards away, if not from a mile away. Even so, the reward and the effort to get there still feel like worthwhile experiences.

A few of the winks in Vishal’s screenplay include the placement of the entire Naseeruddin Shah family under one roof, a murder committed by slamming a tabla on the victim’s head, and a significant nod to Vijay Anand’s 1966 thriller Teesri Manzil. The show’s tone, though, is not all winks and no knowledge.

There are at least a few deeply emotional scenes, such as when Wamiqa pretends to call her estranged mother instead of having an intimate chat with the camera, or when a soldier aids a wounded person, or when a mother is betrayed by a lusty father.

Sunidhi and Rekha Bhardwaj’s reflective mood pieces in the aforementioned moving moments, and the meditative yet suspenseful sprinkling of the tabla and sarangi are just a few examples of the original music that Vishal inserts throughout the series. I can’t get Sunidhi Chauhan’s crooning “Charlie Chopra” out of my head.

Even for those who have read the original book, Charlie Chopra & the Mystery of Solang Valley is a completely different experience because to these desi additions of music, humour, and characters. And for the others, it can initially appear a little overpowering, but it will quickly draw you into its world of deceit and empathy. Empathy for the accused, who are merely attempting to survive during difficult times rather than pursuing power.