Those with memories which stretch back to the 70s and 80s will remember the tales of Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer who preyed mostly upon nubile young women. But instead of being remembered as a dastardly criminal, which is who he really was, Sobhraj, equal parts French-Vietnamese-Indian, used smoke-mirror tactics to fool his victims as well as the public at large. When you mentioned Sobhraj, people typically first recalled the flash and the chutzpah, and then the murders.
His chilling exploits became ready fodder for newspapers, and breathless reports had him down as a master impersonator with a charming personality, not the ruthless character who killed for pleasure. There was a huge gap between the man he projected himself to be and the psychopath he was, and everyone lapped it up.
Prawaal Raman’s bio-pic has the kind of ready-made material other filmmakers fill for: a charismatic lead character, dollops of sex and perversion, and a cat-and-mouse game between the criminal and the cop. But nothing in the film comes even close to re-creating the story of a man who intrigued and repelled at the same time, and a man who led the police force a merry dance before he was finally found, and that too, with a twist in the tale.
The only thing that keeps you watching is Randeep Hooda. His Charles is an amazing look-alike of the man, in his side-parted slicked down hair, the dark glasses, the sinuous, snake-like slither. He smirks rather than smiles, because he knows he is superior. And succeeds in keeping his main rival, top cop Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain), off balance and continually enraged as the chase ensues.
The film should have been riveting. But it comes off as a slapdash, confused collage of scenes involving the famous jail break in which the real life Sobhraj broke free with several prisoners: it was the kind of astoundingly brazen ‘kaand’ whose reverberations were felt in the system for a long time. Hussain tries hard, but is left to flounder: he fulminates too much, as opposed to the real-life Kanth who went after the real-life Sobhraj with the kind of dogged, smart approach that finally nailed the man. The reel representation is all jumbled surface, with very little going on underneath: What made this man tick? The film gives us no answers.
Randeep Hooda has it. He needed a better film.