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My Client's Wife film review

★★★★

Written and directed by: Prabhakar 'Meena Bhaskar' Pant

Starring: Anjali Patil, Sharib Hashmi, Abhimanyu Singh


 

A young woman in a silk nightdress sits ona prone man lying on a bed shrouded in net curtains and bathed in a red light.
Film Poster for My Client's Wife

Right from the off in My Client's Wife you may be forgiven for thinking that you've travelled back in time. The title card fades in on top of the ubiquitous red curtain then fades out again to allow the dramatic tension of the music to take over as we watch a lone ambulance hurtle along the empty streets of an Indian prefecture towards its destination – the hospital. The whole scene is reminiscent of something from fifty years ago and more and it doesn't stop there. Through the initial set-up we watch as a woman clad in a niqab packs her things, burns some papers and then sets up a camera to deliver her 'confession' as all the while there are mumblings and shufflings from upstairs. The music builds and screams at us that something truly horrifying is happening before we leave the scene and the narrative begins in earnest.


If you didn't know any better you'd swear you were watching an episode of Columbo or Murder She Wrote, or at least an Indian version of these, as you then try to piece together the mystery in order to get back to the titillating reveal which was shown at the beginning, hopefully now with a manilla folder full of knowledge and a much broader perspective on what just happened.


The protagonist in this crime thriller is not so much of a detective though, as a lawyer for the accused, Raghuram Singh (Abhimanyu Singh) who has been arrested following the assault of his wife, and which has garnered him charges of 'half murder'. Singh tells his lawyer, Manas Verma (Sharib Hashmi) that all is not as it seems and that his wife Sindoora Singh (Anjali Patil) has a fetish, nay obsession, for controlling men, so he should be very careful when trying to find out the truth of the situation. Naturally Raghuram claims his innocence and questions his wife's fidelity in his defence, planting the seed that a proper investigation is warranted, an investigation that we as the viewer are only too happy and interested to take part in.


As the film progresses and more tidbits are thrown into the mix we also get to see writer/director Prabhakar 'Meena Bhaskar' Pant's directorial style unfold, constantly buffered and blustered by the overbearing soundtrack of Sanchit Balhara. It is then that we realise we're not watching a procedural crime drama from the 70's at all but actually a Hitchcockian suspense thriller from the 50's and 60's. Everything, from the framing of the shots, to the editing of the scenes, to the lighting and photography, to the tense oppositional dialogue within close quarters, all scream Hitchcock to the viewer while Balhara does his best to channel his inner Bernard Herrmann through his suspenseful overtures. The narrative takes a Hitchcockian turn too, as more and more is revealed about the main characters and large sexual overtones are glibly thrown around. What started as something quite kitschy and camp then becomes something far more dramatic and dark.


We learn, along with Verma, through carefully constructed black and white flashbacks, the varying truths about what happened that fateful day. Raghuram tells his story, Sindoora tells hers and the seemingly incidental character of the cable guy even gets to tell his. This 'Rashomon effect' probably owes more here to Gone Girl than Kurosawa's classic but either way it builds an engaging second act that really brings the viewer into the story, leading us by the nose to spot the inconsistencies and see if we can piece together ourselves the real truth hiding within.


But we can't. It's almost impossible to figure out what's actually happening in the Singh's lives until it's revealed to us in the last fifteen minutes of the film, and it's here where My Client's Wife will live or die in the minds of most viewers. At no other point in the film does the narrative drag than just before the reveal, and then when it does come it may completely turn off those who have spent the last hour and a half waiting for it. For my money it fits well into what's been shown previously and Pant seems to have worked very hard to make sure there are no glaring inconsistencies in his own narrative, no matter how far out it may seem to some.


What Pant has created here is more of an homage than anything new. He borrows heavily from Hitchcock's work, most notably Psycho, using a mainly singular location and espousing overt sexual themes, but when was that ever a bad thing? For a first time feature director, making an indie film on a small budget, there are far worse decisions that could be made than aping a silver screen legend. For 95% of the film the viewer is treated to engaging, well constructed and well shot cinema which should satisfy for the entire time it's being watched, however that might all change in the last few minutes depending on the viewer's reaction. The main problem that My Client's Wife has is that you won't know whether or not it's the type of film you'll enjoy until after you've seen it.

 

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