English-lingo mystery-drama "Being Cyrus" is an engaging oddity that jumps the rails too often to fully succeed. Ambitious debut by photographer Homi Adajania already played a couple of specialist Western fests prior to limited release March 24, and could rack up more such dates. Commercial B.O. has been subdued.

An interesting attempt to expand the boundaries of mainstream Indian cinema, English-lingo mystery-drama “Being Cyrus” is an engaging oddity that jumps the rails too often to fully succeed. Ambitious debut by photographer Homi Adajania, using Bollywood names in a typically un-Bollywood format, already played a couple of specialist Western fests prior to limited release March 24, and could rack up more such dates. Commercial B.O., both in India and the U.K., has been subdued.

Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan, who’s now developing into a real talent beyond his boyish good looks, plays the titular Cyrus Mistry and also is the pic’s narrator. Raised in foster homes, Cyrus has become a drifter — and now drifts up to the door of potter Dithnaw Sethna (Naseeruddin Shah) and his flirtatious wife, Katy (Dimple Kapadia), in the hill station of Panchgani, 160 miles from Mumbai.

Cyrus is answering an ad for an assistant to the once-famous Dithnaw, now a pot-smoking recluse. He soon inveigles his way into the couple’s confidence, though he has a harder time with Dithnaw’s businessman brother, Farokh (Boman Irani). Latter lives in Mumbai with his pretty young wife, Tina (Simone Singh), and the two men’s loopy old dad, Fardounjee (Honey Chhaya).

Fardounjee is a millionaire but Farokh forces him to live like a pauper in a back room of the block he owns. “They were one screwed-up family, like any other,” opines Cyrus, in his copious voice-over that sometimes strains too hard for intellectual effect.

From the atmospheric chamber score, it’s clear Cyrus has some secret agenda — though it’s not until halfway through the movie, after a misjudged nightmare sequence, that the script starts to yield up its secrets. Following a genuine shock at the hour mark, pic becomes an enthralling, if convolutedly edited, crimer, involving murder, betrayal and a neat twist in the final reel.

Though, at 85 minutes, the film clocks in as one of the shortest Bollywood productions in memory — and with no songs or widescreen photography — Adajania and co-writer Kersi Khambatta take their time building the characters. That’s fine, though pic’s plot-heavy second half hardly capitalizes on the earlier backgrounding. Also, though story is set amid Mumbai’s Parsi community — Indians of Iranian descent — nothing is made of this fact in dramatic terms.

As the apparently charming Cyrus, Khan holds the screen amidst a cast of veterans, among whom Shah and Chhaya are standouts. Alas, Irani, Manoj Pahwa (as a corrupt cop) and especially Kapadia wildly over-act, damaging the other thesps’ restraint. In a relatively small, but crucial, role, Singh is terrific as Tina.

Dialogue on the synch-sound production is occasionally muffled, but other credits, notably Jehangir Chowdhury’s textured lensing and the whole production design, are pro. Cast handle the English dialogue perfectly naturally.

Being Cyrus

India

Production

An Eros Entertainment release (in U.K.) of a Times Infotainment Media presentation of a Miracle Cinefilms, Serendipity Films production. Produced by Ambika A. Hinduja, Dinesh Vijan, Raman Macker, Munish Purii. Executive producer, A.P. Parigi. Directed by Homi Adajania. Screenplay, Kersi Khambatta, Adajania.

Crew

Camera (color), Jehangir Chowdhury; editors, Jon Harris, Anand Subaya; associate editor, Gautam Singh; music, Salim-Sulaiman ; art directors, Navin Kenkre, Shekhar More; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Belletty; assistant director, Kapil Sharma. Reviewed at Cineworld Feltham 12, London, March 29, 2006. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Saif Ali Khan, Boman Irani, Honey Chhaya, Simone Singh, Manoj Pahwa. (English dialogue)
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