If I didn't know about Irrfan's health issue I'd still be shaken by his hangdog unenthusiastic expression as he plods through his chosen life of a born loser in this savagely funny satire on adultery and blackmail.

In the strikingly shot (by cinematographer Jay Oza) opening we see Irrfan (Dev) struggling to stay afloat through his office hours, fighting shy of going home because the spark has gone from his marriage and wife who watches cheesy song sequences on television to while away her time.

Actually, it was never there, the spark I mean. In a wedding song that comes on at the end of the film taken from Dev's marriage to Reena (Kirti Kulhari) seven years earlier, we see how mismatched and ill-at-ease the couple was.

This is a marriage where adultery is waiting to happen. And it does sooner than we expect. The takeoff point for the comedy is so steeply damning and done in the film with such humorous indulgence that we left pretty dazed by the absurdity of it all.

From the adulterous episode "Blackmail" builds into an edifice of outrageous eventualities all bursting at the seams but never getting out of control, such is the director Abhinay Deo's control over his characters, all victims of a scam that boggles the mind, tickles the senses and sets our imagination on the wildest wackiest ride since Abhinay Deo's "Delhi Belly".

While the writing sparkles with a roguish splendor, and the director fills the frames with a fiendish glee. The narrative does spark off a distant pensiveness in indicating the breach of modern urban marriages. While Irrfan's marital bedroom is shattered by Arundoy's presence, Arunodoy's own marriage with the bully wife played with splendid spleen by Divya Dutta, is no laughing matter. She treats him like her dog. He doesn't mind as long as his monthly allowance keeps coming. Arunodoy sets aside his ego to make the husband a henpecked gold-digger.

I found the scenes of domestic disharmony as enacted by Arunodoy and Divya to be far more vivid and representational of an urban despair than the Irrfan-Kirti marriage which is shown to be far quieter in its incongruities.

Arunodoy and Dutta are a riot together. Watching these two underrated actors imbue life and zest into their parts is a major part of the pleasure derived in viewing this bitterly dark comedy. Other exceptionally persuasive performances come from Praduman Singh as Irrfan's shifty cheesy office colleague and Anuja Sathe as a timid office co-worker who transforms into an avaricious money monster in no time at all.

 Every actor gets the point. "Blackmail" is a film that celebrates the sheer lunacy of the marital equation when pushed against betrayal. Its strength lies in generating laughter out of the most meditative mishaps of marriage. The sheer preposterousness of making adultery into an occasion of a serial blackmail is used to invoke a sense of unabashed boisterousness.

"Blackmail" is a virgin territory in the comedy genre. It is heady and hedonistic, cocky and compelling in the way the comedies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee used to be. If only these veterans could see the sexiness that underlines all gender wars. "Blackmail" is a closeted Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy with oodles of extra voluptuousness.

'Blackmail'; Starring: Irrfan, Kirti Kulhari, Arunodoy Singh, Divya Dutta, Praduman Singh, Anuja Sathe, Omi Vaidya; Directed by Abhinay Deo; Rating: ****(4 Stars)


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Lucknow: A 46-year-old government hospital employee in Uttar Pradesh's Moradabad died on Sunday evening, 24 hours after receiving a Covid vaccine shot. The district's Chief Medical Officer has said the death is unrelated to vaccination.

Ward Boy Mahipal Singh died after complaining of chest congestion and breathlessness. According to his family, he had been unwell before the jab.

"He was vaccinated on Saturday around noon. On Sunday he felt breathless and complained of chest congestion. We are inquiring into the reasons of the death. We will get a post mortem done. It does not seem to be a reaction to vaccination. He did night duty on Saturday too and there were no problems," MC Garg, Moradabad's chief medical officer, told reporters late last night.

The post mortem report reveals the immediate cause of death as "cardiogenic shock/septicemic shock" due to "cardio-pulmonary disease", according to the Uttar Pradesh government.

The man's son told the media he may have been unwell before the vaccination, but that he felt worse after receiving the shot. "My father left the vaccination centre around 1.30 pm, I brought him home. He was feeling breathless and he was coughing. He had a bit of pneumonia, the usual cough and cold, but he started feeling worse after returning home," Mahipal Singh's son Vishal told the media. 

In a press release, the UP govt said it vaccinated 22,643 people on Saturday, day 1 of India's Covid Vaccination drive. The next day of vaccination in Uttar Pradesh is Friday, January 22.