There are two ways of doing a full-on masala film. You either turn it on its head and poke fun at ridiculous cinematic conventions. Or you treat the stereotypical characters and sacred cows of our cinema with full seriousness.
"Shortcut Romeo" takes the midway route. It seems so full of the old-world formulistic flavour and the stench of the familiar that parts of the pulsating aggressive storytelling actually feel like a spoof.
So, we have the film's unfaithful wife Monica (Ameesha Patel) and her slimy lover (Jatin Garewal) making out in a golf turf and it is beyond logical explanation why an affluent couple, who could afford the poshest of duplex to meet, would choose such a spot.
And then the lover tells the unfaithful wife, "First time when you do it (cheat in a marriage) you feel bad. Then it becomes your style."
Er, how stylish! Come again?
But please don't laugh. First-time Hindi director Susi Ganesan is dead serious. The film shot at the speed of sound is filled with bizarre twists and turns. It's basically the story of a woman who cheats on a saintly tycoon of a husband (effectively played by Rajesh Shringapure) who has a massive portrait of Rabindranath Tagore in his bedroom, and a cheesy blackmailer named Suraj (Neil Nitin Mukesh), who believes in taking risky short-cuts to get rich.
This is not the first film about a cheating wife and a blackmailer. Reena Roy and Naseeruddin Shah had done the roles with heart-stopping tension in "Bezubaan". "Shortcut Romeo" scores in the way the the plot paces out its drama in the ongoing friction between the cheating wife and the blackmailer.
Neil plays the cheesy go-getter with a schemer's delight. His eyes glint when he talks of teasing more money out of Monica. He drools when she transfers cash into his trashy life. Alas, some of the narrative's display of the protagonist's excessive hedonism is just an excuse for African tourism.
The Kenyan expedition reads like a botched-up touristic brochure.
Bad idea, Ganesan. Even worse is the director himself showing up in the second-half as the cheated husband's detective-friend. Ganesan's accent is so thick, it slices the gamboling narration into smithereens. At least for a while. But then again the film gathers momentum towards the end-game. The finale is a breathless whammy with Neil making a run for his freedom, quite literally, with the narrative panting behind him.
"Shortcut Romeo" is redeemed by a strong message on today's 20-something's yearning for materialism. And when our Shortcut Romeo finds his short-skirt Juliet (Puja Gupta, pretty) there is a delicious irony attached to the association. The film's most vivid interludes go back to Neil's childhood to show how he learned to be corrupt, acquisitive, and inquisitive, at a tender age.
Some of the action sequences with Neil, specially one key fight with African tribals, are first-rate. But then the songs - oh my god! - they pop up at the most inopportune moments.
In spite of its massive flaws, including the cheesy dialogues, Ganesan's stylish shocker of a thriller manages to stay constantly one step ahead of the audience. A coolly crafted cat-and-mouse game "Shortcut Romeo" finds Neil giving grit to the gripping goings-on. The last half-hour is a knock-out.
But the overall product could have been far less retrogradatory in tone. Nonetheless enjoyable while it lasts.