September 7, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Rumi Jaffery
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the dramatic film “Chehre” features an almost all-Indian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: During a snowstorm, a traveling advertising executive finds himself stranded in a mansion with strangers who want to play a dangerous “mock courtroom trial” game with him.
Culture Audience: “Chehre” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “trapped in the snow” mystery thrillers and don’t mind if the movie has ridiculous plot holes and takes too long to tell the story.
“Chehre” earnestly tries to be an intriguing mystery thriller, but the entire film buries a badly conceived plot in a steady pile-on of nonsense, just like the snowstorm that takes place during the movie. This snowstorm is the reason why the main characters are confined to a mansion, where a guest at the house is pressured into playing a game where he is the defendant in a mock trial. During this trial, secrets are revealed and not everyone might survive this game.
“Chehre” (which is the Hindi word for “faces”) is a little too long (139 minutes) and a little too bloated to sustain this flimsy story, which gets more ridiculous as time goes on. It’s not a boring film, but it seems as if the filmmakers became too enamored with adding in ludicrous complications, in order to stretch out the movie in unnecessary ways. Directed by Rumi Jaffery, who co-wrote the “Chehre” screenplay with Ranjit Kapoor, “Chehre” wants desperately to be a horror-inspired thriller, but it’s more like a soap opera than a scary movie.
You know you’re in store for a self-indulgent film when the opening credits scene features a nearly five-minute morality lecture from the movie’s most judgmental character: Lateef Zaidi (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is sitting in a chair inside an empty room of a mansion. He is later revealed to be a criminal prosecutor. And he rambles on about how life is a series of judgments, karma and paying for sins. It telegraphs too early what happens later in the movie.
After hearing this pretentious speech, viewers then see a BMW driving on a deserted road somewhere in India during a snowstorm. The driver is an advertising executive in his early 40s named Sameer Mehra (played by Emraan Hashmi), who is lost and trying to find the road to Delhi. A turban-wearing older man is walking on the side of the road, so Sameer asks this stranger if he is on the road to Delhi. The man says no. And just like that, a tree suddenly falls right in front of the car, making it impossible for the car to pass the tree on the road
There’s no explanation for why Sameer is in this deserted part of India during a snowstorm. It’s all just a contrivance for what happens later in the story. The stranger comes to Sameer’s rescue and says the obvious: There’s no way the car can continue driving forward on the road because the tree is blocking the pathway. The stranger also says that he doesn’t know when officials will arrive to remove the tree.
Sameer is dismayed because he was on the way to an important business meeting, which he will probably no longer be able to attend. The stranger introduces himself as Paramjeet Singh Bhuller (played by Annu Kapoor), and he tells Sameer that luckily a friend of Paramjeet’s lives nearby and would be able to accommodate Sameer to stay there during the snowstorm until Sameer can get help. Sameer gladly accepts the offer. Sameer soon sees that there’s more than enough room to accommodate him because the house where he’ll be temporarily staying is a mansion.
The mansion’s owner/host Jagdhish Acharya (played by Dhritiman Chatterjee) is a retired judge. Also at the house are Lateef (the sanctimonious man seen in the movie’s opening credits) and an elderly man named Hariya Jatav (played by Raghuvir Yadav), who likes to play the flute. Lateef says he’s a chief prosecutor, while Paramjeet is a defense attorney. It’s revealed a little later that Hariya is retired and used to work in law enforcement in a very different capacity from the judge and lawyers.
There are two servants in the mansion: Anna (played by Rhea Chakraborty), a shy and attractive housekeeper/cook in her 20s, and Joe (played by Siddhant Kapoor), a brooding handyman in his 20s who is the “strong and silent” type. Sameer finds out that there’s no cell phone service during this storm. And the land line phone service isn’t available either.
And here’s the first red flag that Sameer should have noticed: He’s told that there’s no Internet service either, even if there hadn’t been a snowstorm. In other words, there’s no way that Sameer can immediately communicate with anyone outside of the mansion. Sameer is annoyed by this inconvenience, but he seems satisfied in knowing that at least he’ll be staying at a mansion with servants.
The BMW that Sameer is driving is owned by the advertising agency that employs him as the president/CEO. The agency is owned by a woman in her 30s named Mrs. Natasha Oswal (played by Krystle D’Souza), whose late husband founded the agency. Her much-older husband died a month earlier, and Sameer was promoted to the top executive position to replace the deceased founder. The movie has flashbacks to Sameer’s life in the year before he came to stay at this mansion.
As the men settle in the living room for some drinks, Sameer is told that it’s a tradition for guests in the house to play a game after they have dinner. Sameer doesn’t seem to care to hear about this game because he doesn’t think he’ll be at the mansion for very long. He’s about to find out the hard way how wrong he is about that.
The men ask Sameer about himself. Sameer tells them that he’s the president/CEO of a successful advertising agency, and he has a MBA degree. He is supposed to be in Delhi to meet with an important client to do a photo ad shoot for Butterfly Collections, which are trinket toys that look and move like real butterflies. Sameer has two of these butterfly trinkets that he gives to Anna, who giggles and expresses childlike delight and fascination with these butterflies.
Sameer also says that he’s happily married and has a 5-year-old son named Varan. Lateef notices that Sameer has a gold cigarette case inscribed with the words “With Love from N.O.” When Lateef is asked who “N.O.” is, Sameer says it’s just a friend. Sameer won’t say if it’s a male or female friend and quickly changes the subject.
After dinner, Sameer gets even more pressure to play the game that the other men say all the guests have to play. They explain the game is a mock courtroom trial where the guest is the defendant. Jagdhish will be the judge, Lateef will be the prosecutor, and Paramjeet will be the defense attorney.
The guest is allowed to choose the crime that the guest is “on trial” for, and Sameer is told that it’s to the guest/defendant’s advantage to be the one to make this choice. If not, the choice will be made for the “defendant” on what the crime will be. And it could be for a crime that might be hard to defend.
Sameer says he’s not interested. But then, Anna chimes in and says it would hurt the host’s feelings if Sameer didn’t play the game. Because he doesn’t want to appear rude, Sameer eventually gives in and says yes. However, Sameer says he won’t choose the “crime” for this “trial” because he’s a good person who hasn’t committed any crimes in real life.
Sameer is very smug and self-assured about how morally pure he is. A little too smug. And when someone sounds too perfect to be true, it’s usually a façade. The other men seem to already know it because when Sameer goes on “trial,” it’s revealed that Sameer isn’t as upstanding as he wants people to think he is.
One of the biggest flaws of “Chehre” is how easily Sameer exposes a lot of his secrets. There are hints that there might be supernatural forces at play in how Sameer ended up at this mansion, because it was all a set-up to trap Sameer. The men at the mansion seemed to have been able to have extraordinary control over the circumstances that led Sameer to that mansion in order to get him to play the “mock trial” game. However, the movie gives no real insight into how supernatural these “mock courtroom” men might or might not be.
The “trial” part of the movie isn’t very well-written because the defense attorney doesn’t even make any closing arguments. And the movie takes a very jumbled and convoluted route (with several flashbacks) to get to what’s obviously is going to happen. There are some very gimmicky “plot twists” that try to rewrite some of what was previously established in the story.
Most of the actors give adequate performances, with Hasmhi faring the best because his Sameer character ends up being the most complicated. Chakraborty has the least-impressive acting of the principal cast members. But maybe that’s because she doesn’t quite know how to authentically portray Anna, who is supposed to have mental health issues because of a past trauma. Unfortunately, “Chehre” has limited stereotypes for the women who have significant speaking roles in this movie: The women are either subservient or seductive in “Chehre.”
Because the movie goes on for too long, viewers might find their patience tested when it’s revealed about halfway through the movie that this is no ordinary game, and the men who instigated this game have sinister intentions. The movie’s visual effects aren’t very good. The secrets that are revealed are as cliché as you would imagine them to be. The only real suspense is in wanting to know how the movie will end. But because there are so many awful characters in “Chehre,” viewers will probably have emotionally checked out long before the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.
Anand Pandit Motion Pictures and Saraswati Entertainment Private Ltd. released “Chehre” in cineams in the U.S., India and several other countries on August 27, 2021.