Ever since the baffling trailer of Bawaal was released at an event in Dubai two weeks ago, fans of its lead stars Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor have been left wondering what acclaimed director Nitesh Tiwari's next offering might actually be.
Tragic love story? Time travel saga? Romantic comedy?
I am here to report that it's none of the above. In fact, I am still at a loss as to what the film actually is.
Dhawan plays Ajay Dixit, a history teacher from Lucknow who, ashamed of his very ordinary life, builds a carefully crafted image of a confident, seemingly wealthy and popular man. As a result, he's considered something of a hero by his students and extended community, much to the exasperation of his parents.
That sham image is also how he found his wife, Nisha (Kapoor), an independent and well-educated woman who's been unable to find a husband due to a medical disorder.
But their marriage unravels on the night of their wedding. And yet, despite the "saint" Nisha being made to sleep on the floor, they stay married because Ajay needs to keep up appearances.
While the story unfolds swiftly in the first few minutes, it's when the main narrative is set up that things begin to take a strange turn.
An incident at the school forces Ajay to take off on an unplanned trip across Europe, on a Second World War trail. The ever-forgiving Nisha also tags along. Because, you know, appearances.
As the couple travel through Paris, Normandy, Amsterdam, Berlin and Auschwitz, they relive the horrors of the deadliest conflict in history. Each scene then turns into a history lesson, with Tiwari inserting dramatic black-and-white recreations of the war at each location.
The usually reliable Dhawan gives a grating performance, hamming up his exaggerated machismo to frustrating levels, while Kapoor's sacrificial Nisha is hardly given a chance to grow.
A tired Bollywood comedy schtick in the form of a colourful Gujarati family that Ajay and Nisha encounter on their travel, fails to stir any laughs either.
Tiwari co-wrote the story based off an idea by his wife, the writer and director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. It's baffling how the director who gave us films such as the heart-warming Chillar Party and the inspiring Dangal, would offer up this muddling tale of self-discovery that never finds itself.