A police officer (Vikram) investigates a report about a woman screaming in a doctor’s (Shataf) house in the hilly town of Rimtik only to be told by the doctor that it’s his wife (Sushmita) screaming while being administered an injection. His suspicions grow when he finds the doctor at the police station next morning, filing a complaint about his missing wife.
Visualise a sleepy, misty hill town that constantly plays hide and seek among the clouds; a town that’s full of wet and winding roads, sudden showers and colourful houses along the hill slopes. That’s the beauty of the location Khoj is set in — the pristine hills of Kurseong. And so, it isn’t a surprise when the camera work turns out to be one of its biggest strengths. So let’s talk about that first.
The opening scene, which starts out with Vikram sitting in the rain near a checkpoint and enjoying a plate of hot chowmein while his deputies stop vehicles, maintains the continuity nicely throughout — Vikram rides towards the house where a complainant had heard a woman scream with the plate of chowmein still in his hand. But there’s a patch that seems to show his vehicle riding through a sunlit locality. The difference in weather seems too stark even for a hill town, where, though it changes from rainy to dry every 500 metres, cloud cover is usually uniform. Moreover, it seems DoP Ripon Choudhury has a yellow fetish. While he has made brilliant use of light and darkness across the film, the lights seem to be too yellow for a location that mostly green. Even in shots around the doctor’s well-lit house, yellow is the predominant tint, and it’s the same in shots involving backlights. Maybe sticking to the natural tones would have added a different aura to the otherwise great shots.
Then comes the element of continuity — the connecting dots — which always plays a major role in a crime thriller. During his initial investigation, Vikram approaches many of Shataf’s neighbours to ask about the screams. And as the film progresses, all of them seem to have lied to him about never having seen Shataf’s wife. But there’s nothing in the storyline about Vikram following that up after he gets hold of the missing pieces. Why doesn’t he speak to the neighbours again about why they are lying? Even if we assume things never come to that, what about the scene where Shataf starts a scream fest and drops a huge hint about what has happened to his wife and where? Why, instead of following the one lead he’s looking for, Vikram just goes home and sleeps over it? In fact, the entire investigation episode is badly written at best. It hardly adds anything to the storyline. The cop is obsessed with his theory that the doctor has murdered his wife and spends his whole time shadowing the latter. That’s not much of an investigation. No wonder he unravels nothing till the doctor decides to spill the beans.
A major highlight of the film is, however, the performances. Shataf has done a really good job of playing a doctor who’s a victim of lust and circumstances. He’s good throughout as a terrified commoner who’s trying to put up a brave front. Vikram, however, turns his character into one filled with a basic contradiction — he seems obsessed with his work and goes about things with a lot of energy, but that energy and command seems to vanish whenever the doctor confronts him. He almost seems respectful, mellowed and at times, even afraid. If it’s a contrast the director wanted that’s a different thing altogether. But that doesn’t do much good to the cop’s character. Despite that, he’s managed to do justice to his character in more ways than one. The most striking performance in the film, however, is that by Lalit Malla — the doctor’s nemesis. His body language, eloquence, delivery, are perfect for the small-time goon with a brain that he plays in the film. He’s believable right from the introductory scene when he interacts with Vikram and his deputies in the police station. And he maintains that throughout. Sushmita, too, has put in a good performance, and so has Poonam.
The music by Raja Narayan Deb is just right for the ambience and the drama, with the background score adding to the aura of mystery and gloom that’s integral to the storyline.
Over all, Khoj is a nice watch if you don’t mind the lack of smiles or laughter and the general gloom. It’s a crime thriller that manages to hold on to the mystery till just about half-time. After that, it’s a simple thrill ride towards the end with some great camerawork to boot. It won’t remain etched in your memory, but it certainly won’t make you feel brain-dead like a lot of other films do. So go on, give it a shot.