Everybody knows the story. High-profile socialite mother kills her daughter. As the real-life story started to unfold last year, the world lapped up the salacious and sleazy tale of Indrani and Peter Mukerjea's involvement in killing Sheena. Evidently, it is not easy to craft a thriller when the suspense is open and out among the audience. That was the challenge for Dark Chocolate. And despite numerous missteps, director Agnidev Chatterjee has done a good job.
The film starts where the real story started in mid-2015. A charred, mutilated and buried corpse is found in the woods somewhere near Mumbai. The police commissioner gets an anonymous phone call with some more leads and deploys two senior investigating officers Abhishek (Indrasish Roy) and Payel (Mumtaz Sorcar). The duo arrests socialite Ishani Banerjee's (Mahima Chaudhary) driver Ram Charan (Rajesh Sharma) in an illegal arms-dealing case and he spills the beans about his employer's plan to bump off Reena (Riya Sen) - Ishani's daughter. Based on the driver's confession, the cops arrest Ishani and in the investigation room, the film takes a detour to Ishani's past (played by Riya again).
From here on, the film does a back and forth between Ishani's abused past and glitzy but solitary present. The film culminates after the police arrest Victor Banerjee (Sudip Mukherjee) - Ishani's media baron husband.
There are multiple sloppy moments in the film. The chase sequence in the beginning, the blunt English conversation between the TV news anchor and his guest, use of some hideous filters to portray flashbacks - the list is endless. The film, in a word, lacks subtlety.
However, there are quite a few high points too. The flashback of Ishani's past, portrayed by Riya, and her abusive, foulmouthed, rapist stepfather Sumanta Mukhopadhyay, is truly unsettling.
But the masterstroke in the film is the Roshomon-esque treatment of the confession sequences of Ram Charan, Ishani and her second husband Shadab (Shataf Figar). All three tell their own version of the same story and the director knits them together suitably.
The performances, like the rest of the film, have highs and lows. Mahima Chowdhary, practically the backbone of the film, is very convincing as Ishani. In fact, her broken Bengali too goes well with the essentially snob character she plays. Shafat Figar too has done a smart job as one of Ishani's husbands and an accomplice to the murder. The conflict and helplessness of his character are nicely shown. Indrasish and Mumtaz look good as kickass cops. Their compatibility was perhaps the sole consistent feature in the film. However, their swearing is not seamless. They appeared to be forced on their diction.
Two performances need to be noted here. One is that of Kaushik Sen. He plays the role of numbskull but maliciously cynical first husband of Ishani. He is excellent in his limited screen presence. And there is this curious case of Riya Sen. As the young Ishani, Riya is outstanding. She portrays the intricate and brittle character brilliantly. However, it seems her acting skill takes a nosedive as Reena. She looks and acts like a plastic doll with absolutely no nuance in most of the second half of the film.
The film looks like a docu-feature where most of the story is based on reportage. The case in point is sub-judice, hence there was little room for insight. However, the Sheena Bora murder case was devoured by the common people in this country. This frill-free film can be seen as a visual chronicle of the covetous, rare and bloody real-life drama.
Note: A dubbed version of Dark Chocolate has also released in Hindi.