Rustom- Ashdoc’s movie review

This is a film on the sensational real life case that occurred in Mumbai (the city was then called Bombay) in 1959, where a commander of the Indian navy shot dead the man who was having an affair with his wife. The navy officer was K M Nanavati and his wife was an Englishwoman- her name was Sylvia. They had three children. Due to Nanavati’s long absences while on duty on the high seas his wife used to feel lonely and fell in love with Nanavati’s friend Prem Ahuja and they had a passionate affair. Prem (ironically means love in many Indian languages) had other girlfriends and Sylvia felt acutely jealous of them as she was deeply in love with Prem. She wanted to divorce her husband and marry Prem but Prem Ahuja was a philanderer, who refused to marry her, leaving her distraught. Deeply disturbed, one night she confessed about the affair to Nanavati who was so shocked and hurt by the confession that he wanted to shoot himself dead. On being calmed by Sylvia, Nanavati dropped her and their children to Metro theatre for a movie as the parents had promised the children a movie treat. Then Nanavati went to confront Prem, but not before he had gone to the naval base to get a pistol. He asked Prem to marry Sylvia and accept their children. Prem refused. Angered by this Nanavati shot Prem Ahuja dead and surrendered himself to the police.

The ensuing case brought to confrontation two rich business communities of Bombay who were both refugees from other lands- the Parsi community to which Nanavati belonged were people of the Zoroastrian religion who came from Iran centuries ago and the Sindhi community to which Prem Ahuja belonged were more recent Hindu refugees from Pakistan. Parsis made huge demonstrations to free Nanavati. He was publicised as the upholder of the Asian concept of honour and the killing was presented as upholding family values and honour. The fact that Nanavati had given Ahuja the chance to marry his wife, that he still wanted to spend the rest of his life with his wife inspite of her perfidies, the fact that his wife now stood by him, the fact that he had surrendered immediately to the police- all this was presented as proof of his high moral character and upbringing. A Parsi owned newspaper (The Blitz) ran a passionate campaign to free Nanavati. This tilted popular opinion in favour of freeing him. The jury was influenced by this and voted to free Nanavati. But this was not accepted by the court. Jury decided trials were banned in India and remain banned till date. Nanavati was given life imprisonment. But public opinion stoked by the Blitz newspaper was not ready to accept this. Finally three years later Prem Ahuja’s sister was induced to ask for a pardon for Nanavati, in return for freeing a Sindhi man also—this to placate the powerful Sindhi community which was baying for Nanavati’s blood. After he was freed, Nanavati and Sylvia remained together but migrated to Canada to escape the repercussions of the scandal. Nanavati died in 2003 while Sylvia is still alive today.

Coming to the movie, it shows a large part of this and is good when showing the real life events. The first half of the movie holds your attention with some good scenes and decent acting, but the movie meanders and is too longish after the interval / intermission. It begins to falter when it adds an angle of Nanavati (he is called Rustom in the movie) unearthing corruption in a military deal of buying an aircraft carrier from Britain and then unexplicably and unconvincingly protecting the officers involved. The prosecuting lawyer (Sachin Khedekar) acts in too melodramatic a manner and so does sister of the murdered person (Esha Gupta). They are too loud in their overacting. On the other hand Ileana D’Cruz acts well as Cynthia- as Sylvia is called in the film. She looks so sweet and delicate and vulnerable. Akshay Kumar is okay as Rustom/Nanavati. Obviously his patriotism is hyped to the maximum extent in the movie—he was a volunteer to the navy not a conscript. Some real fun is added by the comical performance of the editor of the Blitz as he sits in the court every day to influence the proceedings of the trial—to the extent that he is jailed by court order on several occasions; not a real life event but a cinematic liberty taken by the director. Also comic is the performance of the maid of Rustom’s, who point blank asks the judge what he would do to his wife’s lover if he caught them cheating!! Songs and music are good and sentimental-appropriate for the situation. Overall the film can be called as a decent watch but not too fantastic.

But women are liking the movie a lot more than men as they have liked the fact that Rustom/Nanavati is shown to be deeply caring about his wife even after her affair with another man and chooses to live with her after all the saga. Also he is shown to be protective about her even during the trial, seeing to it that her named is not dragged in the mud in any way. Generally he is shown to be a strong proponent of women’s dignity and honour throughout the movie—a smart move by the director, which may yield rich dividends at the box office in the coming days.