The great works of art have a beguiling simplicity about them. They draw you with their playfulness, entice you with their endearing frivolity, and once you are hooked, they reveal their core - that Secret Garden, where, contrary to your expectations, no secrets are revealed, only a mirror is held up to you and you catch glimpses of your many selves. Welcome to the world of Mithya.
Rajat Kapur's film is what Don and all its remakes could be but never will be. Its Chaplinesque protagonist, high on Hamlet's soliloquy, traipses along many unconventional signposts of life, and during his journey, affects other people, gets affected himself, finds love in unexpected places, and loses it all by the time he finds himself. Life!
VK (Ranvir Sheorey) is a struggling actor who gets drawn into an inter-gang rivalry owing to his resemblance to a Don, Raje Bhai. We all know the plan by now. Raje Bhai's adversaries, played by Naseeruddin Shah and Saurabh Shukla, pick up Shorey, train him, kill Raje Bhai, and plant Shorey in his stead.
Thankfully, this is where Bollywood makes an exit and we enter Kurosawa territory. It will only spoil the experience if we reveal the plot any further.
The first half sparkles with situational comedy and some clever dialogue. But don't be done in by the surface. Pay attention to the situations, most of which will play themselves out again under different circumstances, revealing a spiral narrative that loops on itself and at the same time scaling levels of emotional and metaphysical understanding.
Ranvir Sheorey lives his role - hamming sometimes, deadpan sometimes (there is a hilarious scene with him in the bathroom, trying to cope with his new-found identity) and bringing a believable tenderness and vulnerability to his act in the second half, cocking a snook at conventions.
Naseeruddin Shah and Saurabh Shukla sleepwalk through their roles. Shah especially has little to do unfortunately, and finishes his role without flexing any facial muscles. Neha Dhupia as the gangster's moll does what is expected. She should congratulate herself on a role well chosen (finally!).
All performances are credible, but it is the writers and the director who should walk away with the honors. The movie is given a dark brooding look, in consonance with the bitter-sweet underbelly. But there are enough sparks of laughter and moments of poignance that make Mithya eminently watchable. If the film looks like slowing down towards the end, may be it just wants you to relax too and feel the sea breeze in your face as Ranvir sticks his head out of the car window wearing an unadulterated smile while soft music plays in the background.
So does the film answer the question to be or not to be? No. But it does show you what dreams may come.