The Pickup Artist review: A non-cheesy, unghastly noir that falls short of its promise

Familiar challenges, amateur writing mar first-time independent filmmaker-actor Rohit Arora’s neo-noir drama. Former flight attendant Samapti Patra experiences new high as a first-time actor.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Director: Rohit Arora

Cast: Dev Chauhan, Samapti Patra, Rohit Arora

Language: English, Hindi

By Mayur Lookhar

“That’s not my taste”, our pickup artist snaps at his meatarian friend who cheekily suggested that may be should change his taste to find love. This neo-noir was proving too hot for our taste buds. So, at the halfway mark, your reviewer and a fellow journalist decided to stage an early walk out. The clock past 10.30 pm. The low attendance [in single digits] drastically reduced the threat of contracting Coronavirus, but it was collectively deemed as wise to leave this pickup artist alone with his indigestible theatrics. A few steps later, we were stopped in our ranks by a masked lady. She was the only member from the cast to attend the lone screening in Mumbai. The lady requested patience hinting at a more promising second half. It was tough to ignore and fortunately for all three of us, The Pickup Artist [2020] partly redeems itself.

First-time director Rohit Arora’s The Pickup Artist [2020] shares its title from the Robert Downey Jr and Molly Ringwald-starrer 1987 romantic comedy (directed by James Toback). The similarities end there. Arora’s world is set in New Delhi where the case of missing girls is troubling the weird one-eyed cop Tiger Tiwari [Dev Chauhan]. Needless to say, that he has his strong suspicion over the pickup artist.

In these troubled, depressive times, a neo-noir may not be an ideal stress buster, but as the recently released Ludo [2020] proved, if handled well, laced with humour, Indian audiences are open to the genre. Unlike Anurag Basu’s Ludo, Arora isn’t backed by a Netflix or blessed with acclaimed artistes. Much like himself, The Pickup Artist [2020] is perhaps a maiden foray into cinema for many of its artistes, chiefly the missing girls. Independent cinema has its challenges but also offers a window of opportunity to budding talents.

Sadly, the weak screenplay and the dull performance by the male cast hurts the film. A faceless protagonist ought to have a gripping voice. But when Arora himself mocks his protagonist as a poor actor, who are we to disagree. While every con artist has a modus operandi, the repetitive action, screenplay inside the opening 30 minutes tests your nerves. The poor male cast, in particularly the pickup artist’s three nauseating meatarian friends, the weird Tiger Tiwari , the bridge side madman [Vivek Sinha] are all over the top characters. The film has travelled across the globe in unheralded film festivals. Is that the reason why Arora decided to shoot it in English and Hindi in the first place? While our pickup artist is a smooth, polished player, his friends’ lack of proficiency in English makes their acts look forced.

Despite their short appearances, it’s the pickup artist’s girls that show intensity. From a college student [Saasha Aery] to a pot loving parched Delhiite [Aanchal Chauhan] to a bibliophile [Smriti Sahni] , and also a simpleton [Anahita Bhooshan], the pickup artist woos all. However, It’s the women who steady this ship through patchy waters. The varied characters reflecting their world, thoughts and belief. What’s common to all of them is the lure of showbiz, and a certain trust deficit. What’s it about women that put the lens on them, and they’d be happy to pose. Oh, is misogyny getting the better of this reviewer? Arora’s pickup artist sure reeks of it. He hates cheating, polygamy. Ironically, as the feminists would rightly point out, if you despise polygamy, infidelity, then why roam around like a khula saand [despot]? It’s this paradox that exposes Arora’s pickup artist.

A broken heart, being cheated is no justification for any immoral act. For large parts, Arora’s pickup artist throws philosophy behind his intentions. While one is in sync with regards to capitalism, corrupt governance, policing, cosmetic spirituality, and the man-eats-man world philosophy, but this pickup artist isn’t getting any empathy from us. Trust is heard to find in this selfish world, but running amok like an elephant in musth only leaves behind a trail of destruction.

A first film is often drawn from personal experiences. As the disclaimer read, we hope Arora’s world is purely fictional. What’s likable about it is that Arora has largely shot the film from his home in Delhi. There’s no name plate, but the residence wall is painted in the cheeky ‘Uparwala’ [upper floor guy, also equated to God] text. Arora’s film picks up pace in the final hour. There’s a sense of purpose, intensity and humour in the latter half of the film. The noir finally comes to life. Pin that down to improved screenplay and the intense, gripping show by under cover cop Aastha [Samapti Patra]. Just like her name [end, closure], Patra takes the film to a predictable but an engaging end.

Source: Samapti Patra facebook

The Bengali girl from Delhi worked as a flight attendant before. For a first-time actor, it is all about landing her feet in cinema. From romancing the skies earlier, the gorgeous Patra romances the lens in her maiden film. She does avail some ‘flying returns’ as Aastha [Patra] poses like a flight steward in one of the shoots. She is a picture of elegance, grace and beauty in the different photoshoots. The best of the lot is in the guise of an Egyptian princess. You just can’t take your eyes of this desi Cleo-Patra and her sensual tone.

There are loopholes in storytelling, but Arora provides a visual treat with deft cinematography. The appetizing photoshoots are often accompanied by shots of his date lying on the bed with the camera positioned sideways. The photoshoot with Astha is captured beautifully.

Arora comes across as another filmmaker who strongly believes in the Anurag Kashyap school of filmmaking. The Pickup Artist [2020] has shades of Raman Raghav [2016] and Aamis [2019] – Bhaskar Hazarika’s critically acclaimed Assamese noir. Kashyap copped criticism for glorifying a real criminal. Arora escapes that for his film is purely fictional. One can pick loopholes in his piece of art. Arora might accuse this reviewer of resorting to nitpicking but there are elements that earn our praise too. Principal among them is how despite its genre, the film doesn’t show a single violent act, nor does it have any nudity.

Any adversity can be a blessing in disguise too. Under normal circumstances, The Pickup Artist might have struggled to get theatrical screens (it still has released across few screens) but given the lack of options, there’s no harm in picking The Pickup Artist this week. Not a classy noir by any means, but it has few ingredients that cater to the tastebuds of noir lovers. And if you are lonely, you might pick on some non-cheesy lines to woo your crush.

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