Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley Review: Vishal Bhardwaj turns to Agatha Christie with one of the best Hindi whodunits since the Shakespeare trilogy.
Charlie Chopra and The Mystery of Solang Valley review
Give Vishal Bharadwaj any text and he will mix it with his whole life. He specializes in adaptations from William Shakespeare’s trilogies (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider) to Ruskin Bond’s Susanna’s Seven Husbands (Sat Khoon Maaf). Now, he turns his attention to the greatest crime novelist of all time, Agatha Christie. And it’s a big compliment to confirm that it won’t let us down once again.
Note the customization
Vishal took Agatha’s 1931 British novel The Seatford Mystery and set it in the Solang Valley and Manali in Himachal Pradesh. However, the snowy mountains and old-world mansions are only visual similarities between the adapted text and the original text.
The characters and their backgrounds are full of local flavor and benefit from India’s ethnic diversity. Detective Charlie Chopra (Wamika Gabbi), a Punjabi girl who is engaged to Jimmy (Viwan Shah), an entrepreneur, is arrested for the murder of her maternal uncle Brigadier Rawat (Gulshan Grover), who investigates the murder case.
Gulshan, who has been infamous for years as the ‘bad guy’, is actually the one who is killed here. The actor’s sophisticated demeanor and innate evil tendencies take him further than the serious intrigue that haunts the entire story.
Speaking of hauntings, those of you who watched the pilot episode that aired in June will know that the show begins with a supernatural/spooky element. Roy (Naseeruddin Shah), a paranormal investigator, summons Lady Rose, a spirit who protects the Solang Valley, to reveal that Rawat is dead.
Costume designer Abhilasha Sharma’s unique clothes, cinematographer Tasadduk Hussain’s staging and Naseer’s intense acting skills make this scene feel like a page straight from a play. Agatha’s novel also opens with a table-turning session, but the dramatic quality of Charlie Chopra’s scene makes it clear that this is no supernatural murder mystery. Since it is set nearly a century after the original text, we find that the other actors in the room share our delight and suspicion of Mumbo Jumbo.
Breaking the fourth wall
Another dramatic element used liberally by co-writers Vishal, Anjum Rajabali and Hariharan of Jyots is Charlie breaking the fourth wall. Charlie Chopra’s introduction is a blast, dancing in the wedding procession before donning a spy hat and starting to find the groom’s stolen shoes. Only when she gets a call about her fiance’s arrest do we see her breaking the fourth wall with a Punjabi expletive.
Wamika looks and feels like Charlie Chopra, a hereditary spy who has been thoroughly trained by her estranged mother (notes or cameos). But her sisterly misogyny directed at us in the middle of a scene doesn’t always land. The format is still very new to the Indian sensibility, and is a small step in the direction of Charlie Chopra Fleabags.
A fellow investigator of journalist Sitaram (Priyanshu Painuli) undermines the case by breaking the fourth wall. Charlie always wants to discuss the specifics of the investigation with us rather than tossing around theories.
This technique creates an immediate reaction at two specific points – when she asks us to look away while she changes her clothes, and when she closes the door on us after an embarrassing moment. Those two examples really complicate the audience by questioning their compelling gaze.
Suspects and their stories
The USP of Charlie Chopra and Solange Valley’s mystery is how Vishal seamlessly intertwines each character’s individual back story with the investigative process. This adds to the confusion because each suspect not only has a motive, but also the means and will to do the job. Only the person who jumped at that moment became the murderer.
During Charlie’s investigation, we find several side plots that could be their own separate short stories. It features a physically challenged Parsi woman (Ratna Pathak Shah), an angry boy (Imad Shah), a struggling writer (Chandan Roy Sanyal) and his beauty parlor owner wife (Paoli Dam), who is on dialysis. An ex-soldier (Danish Aslam), a retired army general, a Muslim single woman (Lara Dutta) and daughter, your regular uncle and aunt (Nina Gupta), and the most obvious suspect – the housemaid and his wife (Hiba Shah).