The story of the underdog in cinema and literature has traditionally followed an either/or trajectory — the person in question ends up becoming a superhero, coming to the rescue of those as marginalised as he has been. Or he turns into a villain with an emotional, gut-wrenching back story that compels you to sympathise (and often, empathise) with him, sometimes even in situations when one shouldn’t.
Freddy, now playing on Disney+Hotstar, has its eponymous protagonist carving a character orbit that is heavily influenced by the Joker. Like the famous DC-verse villain, Freddy — a barely seen, hardly heard mousy dentist with a tortured childhood — goes down the path of crime and chaos. As society increasingly shuns him, Dr Freddy Ginwala becomes a socially awkward sociopath who has been on a matrimonial site for five years and still not managed to get past a fumbling ‘hello’ on every first (and automatically, last) date. When he isn’t pulling out molars for a living or cracking some awful punny jokes, Freddy paints on model airplanes and has the same nightly conversation with his grandma on the phone.
His sole companion — as silent and slothful as Freddy himself is — is his pet tortoise, Hardy. When Freddy — sweet, simple, socio-agnostic Freddy — embarks on a path of revenge and retribution, it’s less for what happens to him and more for what happens to Hardy. Let’s just say he lands in a soup.
For Freddy, revenge becomes a dish best served bloodied (though Freddy is more Freddy Krueger than Dexter Morgan) when a rare bright day in his humdrum existence spurs a chain of events that changes him — and his life — forever. Freddy’s shy, spectacled glance falling on Kainaaz (Alaya F), a young and attractive woman stuck in a highly abusive marriage, means that he sees his own traumatic past mirrored in her helpless present. Love, however, leads to murder and before Freddy realises it, he finds himself being sucked into an abyss where his already fractured personality suffers a massive browbeating. But this time, Freddy isn’t going to let things lie.
Freddy, for all its aspirations of presenting its leading man in a new light (which it succeeds in, to a great extent) is a largely derivative thriller. Cliches abound, not only in its presentation of the characteristics of a classic socially awkward personality — Freddy even knock-knees himself while sitting on a bench like Forrest Gump — but also in the big reveal that comes somewhere towards the middle of the film. Movie buffs brought up on a steady diet of revenge thrillers will sniff the twist a mile away, but even those who aren’t major fans of the genre will not be too surprised by what unfolds when Freddy’s already unstable, make-believe world is shattered irrevocably.
Freddy is director Shashanka Ghosh’s — the man behind floral gift-wrapped Bollywood fare like Khoobsurat and Veere Di Wedding — maiden attempt at a dark psychological, almost neo-noir, thriller. The man gets some of the beats right, but Freddy could have been a far more compelling watch if approached from a fresher perspective instead of attempting to tick off elements of the genre.
The generic cliches also worm their way into the scene and setting of the film. Choosing its timorous protagonist to be Parsi is a smart move, given the increasingly dwindling members of the community, enabling Freddy to remain largely invisible. But in Freddy, as has been the case in most Hindi cinema (barring Being Cyrus, perhaps, which was directed by Homi Adajania, a Parsi himself), Parsis are painted in the same broad strokes — they live in art deco buildings with winding staircases, only sip on raspberry soda between sentences of broken Hindi and converse incessantly about Dhansak and Lagan nu Custard.
Also, Freddy doesn’t really unfold like a cat ’n’ mouse game or generate much tension, which goes against its very fabric of a psychological thriller. Alaya F is earnest, but doesn’t yet possess the searing screen presence that would have made Freddy’s obsession with Kainaaz more credible for the viewer. The film, written by Parveez Sheikh, also gives short shrift to its side players, allowing none of them to emerge as flesh-and-blood characters.
What redeems Freddy to a great extent is a singularly praiseworthy turn from Kartik Aaryan. The actor, who it seems can’t do much wrong right now, ends the year on a high, showing us what magnificent strides forward he has taken as an actor. Kartik as Freddy works consistently, even when Freddy doesn’t.
Director: Shashanka Ghosh
Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Alaya F, Sajjad Delafrooz
Running time: 124 minutes