An upright lawyer finds his principles tested in “Deewangee,” a superior example of the suspense dramas that Bollywood has started gravitating toward in the past year. Smoothly packaged pic benefits from strong perfs by its two male leads and helming by writer-director Anees Bazmee that’s cool and restrained. Though the action sections don’t generate much heat, most other elements are in place here, making this a good entrant for Bollywood film weeks in the West. Partly thanks to a smart campaign, box office was respectable last fall during an otherwise dull period.
Successful young Mumbai lawyer Raj Goyal (Akshaye Khanna) has never lost a case, but his mom (Farida Jalal) worries because he’s not married. That looks likely to change when Raj meets chart-topping singer Sargam (Urmila Matondkar) at a fancy party and the legal eagle is smitten.
When Sargam’s manager, music magnate Ashwin Mehta (Vijayendra Ghatge), is hacked to death at his villa, Sargam asks Raj to defend the accused, Taran Bhardwaj (Ajay Devgan), who was arrested running from the scene with bloody hands but swears he saw another man leaving the house. Taran is a childhood friend of Sargam’s, and also her career guru, so Raj agrees.
Flashbacks limn Taran’s background, revealing his undeclared love for Sargam and how his own compositions were ripped off by Ashwin’s no-talent brother, Abhijit (Nirmal Pandey). However, when a psychologist reports that Taran is clinically schizophrenic — with a murderous alter ego, “Ranjit” — Raj manages to get him acquitted and put in a loony-bin.
After Taran reveals striking news to Raj just prior to the intermission, pic’s second half finds the lawyer driven to unprofessional tactics in a cat-and-mouse, “Cape Fear”-like game between the two. Latter is unhappy, to put it mildly, that Raj and Sargam are an item.
No Bollywood thesp can do a psycho like Devgan — witness his earlier turn last year as the bleary-eyed mafioso in “Company” — and he unashamedly steals the show here, equally good as the mild-mannered, stuttering Taran as the confidant, obsessed “Ranjit.”
Khanna develops as his part is enriched, giving Devgan a run for his money: Actor is far better here than in his previous suspenser last year, “Humraaz.” As the femme in the middle, Matondkar is fine in the musical numbers but lacks real charisma as a straight actress.
Unlike many Bollywood productions, the movie shows no flabbiness during the second half, with a full measure of twists and reversals, and no comic ballast. Bazmee’s well-composed direction tends to favor the dramatic rather than action sequences, but Amar Mohile’s background score is a plus throughout, atmospheric without being excessive. The six musical numbers are effectively scattered throughout the picture, with the final one cleverly segueing to the climax. Pic’s title literally means “Obsession.”