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Sex, lies & workspace

“Good morning sunshine!”

“Hello beautiful!”

“Wish I were your clothes!”

“Your husband’s so lucky!”

Which one of these lines is a harmless well-meaning greeting and which one is a pass? Which one will send across a more-than-colleagues signal and which one is an innocuous workplace line? Is the ‘hello’ worded to make you uncomfortable or is it just a random welcome?

Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar tosses these how-thin-is-the-line questions and serves up a heady concoction of secrets, lies and betrayal that takes off from Disclosure but goes into whole new territories. Territories that are straight out of real Indian offices and also territories that are a tad too Bollywoody for comfort. And he has two of the most beautiful (yes read sexy, if you please) people to wage the war of words in this very verbose conference-room drama.

Arjun Rampal’s Rahul Varma is the CEO, Chitrangda Singh’s Maya Luthra is the national creative director of the ad agency, and she’s slapped a sexual harassment case against him. Before word goes out, the management brings in an independent social worker (Deepti Naval), who’s like this expert on such intra-office cases. She has to sit with a few other seniors in office for a couple of days, hear out Rahul and Maya and pass a verdict.

But it’s not so easy, of course. Because just like that Michael Douglas-Demi Moore lap-smacking plot, Rahul and Maya have a past.

Seven years back he had taken her under his wing, taught her more than a thing or two about campaign styling and client servicing and projected his protege as the next big thing in advertising. As Rahul puts it, in one of his many chauvinistic monologues, he “was the fairness cream in her life”! Views are varied on whether both of them fell in love on that Thailand trip, but they did make love. And nothing was the same any longer.

Using the device of the conference room inquiry committee a la The Social Network, Inkaar cuts back and forth in an effort to understand where the flirtation ended and the harassment began. Or in other words when did Maya stop enjoying Rahul’s moves and passes. Is it because she didn’t need him anymore or was she just a pawn in a bigger scheme of office politics?

Inkaar has an excellent first half, which really puts you in the middle of the flashy, fierce world of advertising and in the ring with these two drop-dead-gorgeous individuals looking for more than love in their lives. Or so we are made to think. And while the tempo is kept up in the second half, the rest-room resolution is a disappointing and cliched copout that kind of subverts the whole serious issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.

But there’s a lot to enjoy till that point. And that’s largely because of the way Mishra treats his material, which could have easily turned into a dreary discourse on gender equations. He shoots his two leads mostly in close-ups, almost making them talk to the camera, as they put their cases across. It’s also fascinating at what points the addressee switches from singular to plural. “What’s wrong with you women?” or “But you men never get it.”

There’s the vintage Sudhir Mishra stamp scattered throughout the film. Like the first time Rahul and Maya get intimate is in the middle of a noisy kickboxing match in Bangkok! Or the way he shoots the same scene from different points of view, sometimes keeping the lines same and just changing the tone. Or simply the wordplay (written by Mishra and Manoj Tyagi) in the ads within the film is so much fun. Zest condoms? Iss raat ki subah nahin!

Even though it’s largely a single-toned performance, Arjun is able to create the kind of all-charming boss the woman would love to jump into bed with knowing well enough that the morning after may be a very different ball game. Ever since Rock On!! and Raajneeti, Arjun’s brought an endearing poise to his screen persona that often guards some of his not-so-strong moments.

Chitrangda, who had given birth to a hazaaron khwaishein with her terrific debut (under Mishra), has gone below par in quite a few outings now. She has a lot of very good scenes here but tends to repeat herself, often running out of expressions and resorting to stock stares. The two look good together, though, and when they get cosy, it’s one pretty (repeat: read sexy, if you please) picture out there.

Add to them a carefully-handpicked, terrific ensemble cast including Vipin Sharma, Kaizad Kotwal and Mohan Kapur.

Sachin Krishn shoots the film with a lot of style, choosing different

palettes for the now and then portions. There’s no natural setting for songs in the film but the Shantanu Moitra-Swanand Kirkire team comes up with anthemic tracks like Maula tu malik hai and Darmiyaan that easily slip into the background and comment on the proceedings musically.

Usually I go in alone to review a film. But for Inkaar I took a friend along. A woman. I didn’t want the man in me to referee such a sensitive gender war. And I kept checking with her from time to time whether she saw reason in Maya’s allegation or in Rahul’s defence. She too kept switching sides till the candidates involved reached their own (silly) understanding.

You judge it for yourself. Go with Rahul or go with Maya; I’m going with the film. Till that last act.