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Gaslight review: An untidy whodunnit

Writer-director Pavan Kirpalani’s newest psychological thriller ‘Gaslight’ is let down by its writing—performances by Vikrant Massey and Akshay Oberoi emerge as some rays of sunshine

There are vast gaps in the characters’ stories in 'Gaslight'
There are vast gaps in the characters’ stories in 'Gaslight'

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An estranged daughter in a wheelchair arrives to meet her father but is greeted by her stepmother instead. Ratan (Shataf Figar) is on a business trip and should be back soon, the girl is told. Days pass and Meesha’s (Sara Ali Khan) suspicions about her father’s absence begin to grow.

Shadowy figures and mysterious apparitions haunt and lure her as she wheels herself around the unlit corridors of the palatial home and around its step well.  She quite easily manages to enter and exit temples and party venues. If only, in reality, our buildings were so well-equipped and accessible to the mobility-impaired.

When Meesha’s claims to have found her father’s dead body ring false, the royal household—namely stepmother Rukmini (Chitrangda Singh), estate manager Kapil (Vikrant Massey), the loyal driver Padam (Vinod Kumar Sharma) and a doctor (Shishir Sharma) worry for her mental health. A local police officer (Rahul Dev) flits around benignly, enamoured by the lovely Rukmini.

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Meesha finds a sympathizer in Kapil and together they attempt to solve the mystery of the missing Ratan. But nothing is quite as it appears. The characters gaslight each other. Mind games abound. There is mention of Meesha’s mother’s death and her own accident that rendered her disabled —but the how and when remains unsaid. There are vast gaps in the characters’ stories, and cell phones, which are rarely used, aren’t tracked to ascertain the father’s possible whereabouts. One might have overlooked these mystery elements if the thrills had been more profound. Self-playing pianos, a mystic with a prophecy, blaring horns and flashing headlights that are suddenly set off all at once, a silhouette of a magician, are all old tricks of the genre.

Why is all this happening to Meesha and who is the mastermind? The clues are easy to find. Sara Ali Khan plays the troubled woman from scene one to the end, with an even intensity and without any particular standout scene. Chitrangda Singh has a mercurial part and does well with the limited material. As Rana Jaisingh, Meesha’s arrogant and opportunistic distant cousin, Akshay Oberoi makes an impact with a character that is given short-shrift. Vikrant Massey is handed the most complex character. He immerses himself into the part of Kapil, elevating him to a noticeable level. Through Kapil, a long-time victim of gaslighting, class dynamics are amplified.

Kirpalani’s film is steeped in a gloomy palette of washed-out greens and blues, except when the scenes shift to an outdoor skeet shooting contest and a celebratory party. But the writing is a letdown, squandering its initial advantage to close off as an untidy whodunnit and a disappointing thriller.

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