On the face of it, debutant Mozez Singh's Zubaan has much that is likeable. Yet the potential inherent in its music-laden coming-of-age drama remains largely unrealized.
The film makes the right noises, but its sluggish pace and inconsistent writing rob it of the possibility of culminating into a meaningful and coherent statement about life and its vicissitudes.
This story of one man's voyage of discovery takes multiple detours through other genres family drama, love story, et al before it gets to its predictable destination.
Zubaan is about a Gurdaspur boy Dilsher (Harmehroz Singh) who, on account of a pronounced stutter caused by a personal tragedy, is at the receiving end of bullying by his mates.
On one such occasion, a bystander Gurucharan Sikand (Manish Chaudhary) gives the boy a pep talk and a ball-pen with the advice that he should write his own destiny.
Stop depending on anybody, not even God, for help and stand up for yourself, he is told.
Dilsher is a Gurbani singer's son and is blessed with innate musical talent. But he takes Gurucharan's exhortation to heart and sets out to break free from his moorings.
Several years later, Dilsher (Vicky Kaushal), now a strapping young lad, lands in Delhi in search of his childhood benefactor. Gurucharan is a wealthy real estate tycoon and Dilsher resorts to means fair and foul to earn his trust.
Because of his growing proximity to Gurucharan, Dilsher falls foul of the latter's son Surya (Raaghav Chanana). Surya, egged on by his mother Mandira (Meghana Malik), makes no bones about his displeasure at his father's lack of sympathy.
A prolonged stretch of Zubaan centres on this bitter rivalry between Dilsher and Surya during which the former gets badly roughed up a couple of times.
Amid the mounting tension in the Sikand household, Dilsher bonds with a free-spirited singer Amira (Sarah Jane Dias). The girl directly and indirectly helps him sort out his mind and journey towards his goal in life.
Zubaan is largely predictable fare that is salvaged somewhat by its sparkling visuals and the quality of the acting.
Especially impressive is lead actor Vicky Kaushal. He captures the nuances and the many contradictions in the character of Dilsher, a flawed young man who does not shy away from playing a few games to push his way into his idol's inner circle.
Manish Chaudhary etches out a believable self-made man who places self-interest before everything else even his family. The weakest link in Zubaan is Sarah Jane Dias. She is saddled with a role that, despite being important in the larger plot, is grossly underwritten.
She sings and dances with abandon. The purpose seems to be to underscore the liberating power of music and draw Dilsher out of his shell and nudge him towards rediscovering his voice.
But the ploy does not quite come off. The songs, well mounted and smartly executed as they are, only serve to slow down the central narrative. Zubaan, which was the opening film of the Busan Film Festival last year and also fetched the director an award there, lacks dramatic heft.
If it is watchable in parts, it is only owing to the solid lead performance by Vicky Kaushal.