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Gentleman Review: A Near-Perfect Thriller

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Thrillers are a difficult genre to write. As difficult as walking a tightrope. If the writing slackens, it becomes predictable, and there’s nothing to tease our senses. If the writing is too sharp, it throws the audience off. The twists feel forced and leave the reader confused. But, for the second time this year, after Kshanam, we have a Telugu thriller which genuinely walks that edge. With terrific writing and acting, Gentleman is a near-perfect thriller.

*****

Two heroines Aishwarya (Surbhi) and Katherine (Nivetha Thomas) meet on a flight from London to Hyderabad. They discuss their love lives. Katherine talks about Gautham, an adventure sports lover with whom she had a whirlwind romance. Aishwarya, a rich heiress, recounts her first meeting with Jai, a match arranged by her family. Both Gautham and Jai are played by Nani. The question is: Are the two men connected, or are they actually the same person? Katherine’s journey as she uncovers the truth forms the storyline.

The story of lookalikes (possibly separated at a young age in a fair) showing up to cause comic and mysterious situations is familiar in Indian cinema. But Gentleman makes us wrack our brains. Are they both alive? Has one killed the other? Or is it the same person? Gentleman’s director pulls out every clever trick in the book of filmmaking to toy with the audience. Subtle hints are thrown around to make us believe in Katherine’s version of the story; even as we know that the story won’t end that way.

The second half of the film keeps us riveted with an exploration of Gentleman’s tagline ‘Hero or Villain?’ Nani’s characterisation is at times frustratingly difficult to figure out – what is he really? It is possible to guess the truth at this point, but there are so many absorbing twists, that it’s much more fun to wait and let the suspense work itself out in the end. Unfortunately, that’s the weakest point in the film. When the suspense is finally revealed, even though intricately set knots in the story are clearly and logically resolved, the ending feels flat.

*****

The plot is breezily set up through two well-written romantic sequences. In a believably casual scene, Katherine and Gautham say goodbye at the airport, from where she will leave for London. She asks for his jacket, to remember him by. She gives her wristband to him. He says he’ll wear it on his right hand, and not on his left, because having the band near his watch will remind him of the time they have to spend apart. It has just the right mix of sweet and touching; enough to make the audience hope she changes her mind and stays back. In contrast, the romance between Aishwarya and Jai is sugar-coated and dramatic. While not unconvincing, there’s something superficial about their interactions.

*****

A title like ‘Gentleman’ is obviously about the hero. And yet, Nani effectively underplays his role in parts, allowing his co-stars take centrestage. It piques the audience’s curiosity. His tense expression, throughout the film, is hard to read, and keeps the audience guessing. In a crucial scene towards the end, Nani breaks down. Often actors rely on the single-tear-rolling-down method to convey intense grief. It might look more dignified, but really, who cries like that? Nani, on the other hand, knows how to express real grief. He weeps, and his character’s pain feels real. In those final moments, the tension and emotion comes to a head. In the final few minutes of the film, with a whole field of emotions to play with, Nani strikes gold.

*****

For a debut film, Nivetha Thomas couldn’t have asked for a better role. In an outstanding performance, she makes full use of a really well-written character who has been given nearly as much screen time as Nani. Katherine is a strong-willed young woman. She’s vulnerable, but her vulnerability gives strength. With a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude she takes on Nani, head to head. With expressive eyes, she pulls the audience to her side. In a scene when she meets Jai for the first time, her perplexed expression hard to read. Is she angry? Does she doubt him? Or is she just confused? Nivetha’s performance enhances an already layered character.

Surbhi, whose character isn’t obvious for most of the film, delivers a convincing performance, even as some of her scenes seem a little peripheral to the film

*****

Cinematographer PG Vinda sets the mood beautifully with an earthy and dusty tone to the scenes with the adventure-loving Gautham. The hues change to whites and blues when the story moves to the rich couple. The editing in the pre-climax action sequence is precise, and leaves us restless – which is the tone of most of the second half. Mani Sharma, back after a brief hiatus, complements the film’s atmosphere with a background score which intensifies the different emotions in the film.

*****

Long after the film is over, some logical loopholes do come to mind. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter, because while watching the film, the writing and performances keep us hooked.

In one scene, Surbhi tells Nani, “Neelo ee konam kuda vundhani naaku theliyadhu (I did not know that you had this side to you). That’s exactly what we’d like to say to Gentleman’s team, especially the director, actors, and the music director, who pushed themselves outside their comfort zones.

*****

The Gentleman review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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