During a brief scene in Gauravv K. Chawla’s Baazaar, Shakun Kothari, the Gujarati business magnate essayed by Saif Ali Khan, asks Rizwan Ahmed, his ambitious protégé, “Do you know why I keep coming back to this cheap food joint to have my meals?” Rizwan, played by the newcomer Rohan Mehra, answers, “You must love the food they serve here.” Kothari retorts, “The food they serve here is really bad. The actual reason I keep coming back to this place is to remind myself of my humble beginnings so that I don’t have to return to this lowly life ever again.” While these two ambitious men share an obvious mentor-protégé relationship, they also share another bond. Both come from humble backgrounds. So while Kothari sees his past in his young protégé, Rizwan sees his future in his rich and powerful mentor. This makes them natural rivals. But their methods vary greatly. For Kothari business is all about mathematical calculations but Rizwan’s decisions are driven by emotions. When the two ideologies operate in tandem it creates synergy but what happens when they clash? Baazaar tries to address this ideological clash, among other things.
For any Indian growing up in a small town, Mumbai is like a city of dreams. Rizwan, who hails from Allahabad, has big dreams but his idealist father is content with his modest livelihood. On completing 25 years of service, Rizwan’s father receives a watch as a gift from his employer. While it is a matter of great pride for the father, Rizwan sees it as a cheap gift. Now, it is not merely an ideological difference but a clear result of generation gap between the old man and his young son. When Rizwan finally decides to leave for Mumbai, it is not a rebellion against his old-fashioned father but it is more about attaining independence in order to fulfill his dreams. That’s how the millennials like to think and Baazaar explores it well.
Bazaar employs some interesting camera play that tries to push the boundaries as far as commercial Hindi cinema is concerned. Also, at various points in the film, the fourth wall gets broken as Rizwan directly addresses the camera, sharing his thoughts and dilemmas with the audiences—an old narrative trope brought back in fashion by the Netflix series House of Cards. A film such as Baazaar thrives on performances and fortunately the actors don’t disappoint. While Saif Ali Khan is brilliant as Kothari, playing the character with an air of swagger and a near perfect Gujarati accent, Rohan Mehra looks composed as Rizwan. Radhika Apte is solid as ever but sadly Chitrangda Singh’s underwritten character doesn’t offer much.
While Baazaar succeeds in capturing the aspirations of the Indian millennials, it fails to offer anything that we haven’t already seen in dozens of other films. Moreover, it doesn’t treat its subject with the gravity it deserves. By reducing the share market to a tussle between mathematics and emotions, the film ends up overlooking the underlying complexity that governs the trading world. A film like Baazaar is expected to be a cerebral game of ever increasing odds but what we are ultimately served with is a dialogue-heavy potboiler high on drama and histrionics.