In the era when mobile phones weren't even dreamt of, characters in our films connected on landlines, or not at all. Into this world of conditional connectivity crept a collage of crimes and confusion only because punishment, justice and retribution were not linked closely enough.
In 'The Stoneman Murders', writer-director Manish Gupta takes us into the anarchy of an era when technology was tenuous and crime meant smuggling and racketeering rather than extortion and terrorism.
Serial killing is still an alien crime in India. The phenomenon made a rare appearance on our streets in the mid 1980s when an unidentified wacko went around bashing in the faces of sleeping pavement dwellers in the dead of the night with a rock.
India's first certifiable rock star from hell?
A gruesome subject for a film.
'The Stoneman Murders' does nothing to redeem the sense of claustrophobic dread that shrouds the characters on either side of the law. The moments created to establish a link between the private life and public investigations of the cops are so stagey you wonder if they were written and shot to deliberately deflect attention from the main business at hand, namely the messy killings.
Let's face it. The mind of a serial killer is beyond our comprehension. As facts have it, 'The Stoneman Murders' remain unsolved in our police files.
This is where the film's plot gets inventive. It seeks out a neat end to the messy murders involving intrigue and Satanism within the police force. The shock value is applied with jolting generosity at the climax. But the suspense element in most of the narrative is depleted by the restricted space in which the characters manoeuvre their motivations.
The enormity of the multiple-murder crimes is quite often restricted to showing pictures from the newspapers or glimpses of sprawled bodies on pavements. By the time Kay Kay Menon, as gritty and honest on camera as ever, cracks the case, our patience with this dark and gloomy chronicle of the grisly goings-on has run thin. Even the cop-and-criminal chases in dimly-lit subways and railway stations fail to get our adrenaline running.
The pit is reached in the scenes between the suspended cop Kay Kay and his screen wife (Rukhsar) whose exchanges are more in the nature of a radio skit than a film where marital discord is a vital clue to the murderous plot.
Ruskshar is even put through an entirely unnecessary bare-backed sequence. And we can only gape in wonder as ladies in a beer bar break into an item song.
This serial killing story badly needs bailing out. Kay Kay Menon with his strong, wry unsmiling presence brings grit to the feeble drama. Arbaaz Khan as his adversary in the police department has nothing much to do. A couple of supporting performances try to flesh out the shadowy scenario.
On the whole the theme of mass murder on Mumbai's streets leaves us cold and unaffected.
The periodicity (the 1980s) is established through common devices like songs and films. At one point a prostitute calls out to our hero addressing him as 'Rajesh Khanna'.
A bit behind the times. Maybe our movies should just not get into the serial-killing space.ALSO READ: The Railway Men teaser: R Madhavan, Kay Kay Menon, Divyenndu, & Babil Khan offer an ode to bravery