Ajay Bahl’s Blurr, a Zee5 thriller, floats a fascinating question about the meaning of sight. Blindness, the film implies, isn’t just the inability to see but also be seen. A truly sightless person is invisible.
The movie opens to a young blind singer, Gautami (Taapsee Pannu), in a hilly north Indian town, who has hung herself. Her twin sister, Gayatri (Pannu) – suffering from deteriorating eyesight – approaches the local police, but it seems blind to her concerns, dismissing the death as a suicide. As Gayatri investigates the case, she encounters more and more people who consider themselves unseen.
Blurr’s atmospheric setting builds a compelling world: foggy mornings, rainy nights, old cottages. Gayatri’s fading vision softens and obscures the frames – many night scenes get further dark, binding her and the audiences in a foreboding anticipation. At one point, we hear, “A perfect drama is like a melody.”
Bahl follows that cue and achieves impressive parallelism between Gayatri’s weakening eyesight and mental disintegration. No one believes that Gautami was murdered, not even Gayatri’s husband (Gulshan Devaiah). She keeps convincing them – and keeps failing. They don’t listen; she can’t see.
A remake of the Spanish thriller Julia’s Eyes – co-written by Oriol Paulo (whose three directorial projects have found Bollywood adaptations, two starring Pannu, including the recent Dobaara) – Blurr hides more than it reveals. It introduces several supporting characters – Gautami’s friend (Krutikka Desai), an old woman who lives with a cat; a suspicious middle-aged neighbour; an enigmatic young girl with a fleeting presence; and someone pursuing Gayatri off the frame – whose importance or motivations aren’t immediately clear. Information about Gautami, too – her life, her character, her relationships – trickle down to us. This tight-fisted plot, however, doesn’t isolate but invite us.
Even the revelations land via careful tiered escalations, charting an intriguing circular arc. Gayatri tries to penetrate Gautami’s inner circle, fails, moves outwards – scoops a clue through a hotel staff in a different town – returns to her sister’s place and unearths a mountain beneath the ground. This slow and determined accumulation of dread, which doesn’t interfere with the movie’s pace, keeps us in sync with Gayatri. The dead bodies pile; the plot continues to elude – the noose tightens; our desperation starts to match Gayatri’s.
It’s also easy for a film like this to succumb to easy tropes. Not just at the level of, say, sound design and cinematography but also characters and subplots. But Blurr resists the easy temptations, finding fresh ways to divulge personality, solidify tension, spring surprise. A male nurse, for instance, is just shot from the back who attends to Gayatri after her operation, who reveals himself through his chaste Hindi. These flourishes demonstrate a clever movie that keeps earning its suspense.
The sharp performances and dialogues, too, sustain tension. Pannu plays the aggrieved sister with impressive conviction and power. Even when her role gets stuck in a long period of rut – Gayatri attempts to crack a clue, makes limited progress, and fails – Pannu still holds our interest. The actors playing the supporting characters – who range from spectators to informers to suspects – enter and exit the scenes with minimum fuss.
But Blurr’s designs also mean that a lot depends on the climactic reveal. Many thrillers unfold like mathematical theorems: Every little choice must race towards a satisfactory ‘QED’ (quod erat demonstrandum). A weak climax can sink a solid movie – and a memorable twist can lift a flawed film. So a thriller is, in essence, two films rolled in one: first, the methods; second, the madness justifying the methods. More so in a piece like this which isn’t as much about who committed the crime but why.
The climax’s first evident feature surprised me, because it tied everything together. It collapses the collective fears of many characters – that they don’t feel ‘seen’ – in one vicious person. The tense reveal even produces a remarkably poignant scene, converting dread to pathos. But just take a step back and you’ll see the last segment’s flimsy mechanics – a convenient clue, an easy tip-off – that contradicts the respective characters’ traits (and basic common sense).
Besides, the murderer’s motivations are way too simple, simplistic even, for a film like this. Since Blurr has to hide the perpetrator’s past to build suspense – the last few dialogues do try to encapsulate it, but they don’t feel enough – it gets caught in its own trap. The limited character details heighten intrigue, but they also make the drastic leap difficult to buy.
Worse, the movie is way too rushed in its final moments, trying to deflect its sudden fundamental transformation: for the large part, the characters controlled the film; in the climax, the film controls the characters. These choices thrust Blurr into a ‘trope-ey’ territory, eliciting a tired déjà vu.
Bahl’s earlier thriller, B.A. Pass, suffered from the same problem: a solid build-up but a resolution so hasty and muddled that it almost left a sour aftertaste. Blurr’s last stretch is relatively better, but it still can’t escape its own prison of irony: When the movie takes off its blindfold, everything crystalises into a sharp vision, except the audience.
Featured image: Zee5
This article was first published on The Wire.