DEVANSH PATEL finds Hide and Seek a knockout suspense yarn made in pure virtuoso style

WHAT happens when Apoorva Lakhia turns producer? Well, you might just expect another crime drama with blood, guns and goons. But take a back seat, because this one's miles from what Apoorva would even think of directing.

Here, he gives way to his assistant director, Shawn Arranha, for a film which deserves extra points for a strong, unexpected conclusion. In fact, Hide And Seek isn't a film, it's a game... so go and play it.

The story isn't so violent, gory or nasty, and this does the trick here. It's just simple storytelling with a lot of twists, and that's how thrillers are meant to be.

There aren't many unique instances in the film, but the entire film is infused with a freshness that results from the manner in which Shawn Arranha has directed it.

Thriller is a genre least tapped into by Hindi film-makers. Why is something not many know, but Hide and Seek gives a good example of how it can be.

The energetic, serpentine plot provides a perfect playground for a series of deliciously devious characters to play a game of cat-and-mouse.

Om Jaiswal (Purab Kohli) has just come out of a mental asylum and is a loner. But the 12 years inside haven't changed him. He is still shy, protected and madly in love with his girlfriend Jyotika Jhalani (Mrinalini Sharma).

She is a sweet girl you'd want to fall in love with, and a confidante to Om, who'll do anything to protect her love.

He gets a surprise call from her on his birthday and she pays him a visit, and the two lost friends meet up again.

Four other friends remain to be introduced.

Enter Jaideep Mahajan (Arjan Bajwa), son of an ex-chief minister. He is shrewd, dangerous, unpredictable, short-tempered, and can go to any lengths to commit crime because crime is to him what air is to birds and water is to fish.

Next up marks the entry of Imran Baig (Ayaz Khan), a fat boy turning slim. Yes, he was a geek, but 12 years have made him a rich, handsome film star.

Fifth in line is Gunita Sodhi (Amruta Patki), an established professional model who still can't forget her first and only love, Om.

Back when they were kids Gunita fancied Om but couldn't express her love for him, and 12 years on her story still hasn't changed.

Last of the six friends is Abhimanyu Jaiswal (Sameer Kocchar), who is Om's elder brother and a rich and confident industrialist who hates his sibling.

He was a neglected son who didn't get the much desired love and affection - thus the hatred.

As all six friends are established one after the other, all of them get a surprising message - 'Caught you'.

What follows is a fast-paced claustrophobic thriller which makes your brain function 10 times faster than usual and you're playing the game even before you realise that you're a part of it.

Hide And Seek is a maze filmgoers will be happy to get lost in, a criminal rollercoaster with twists so unsettling no choice exists but to hold on and go along for the ride.

A fatalistic tale of power, betrayal, crime and punishment, spiced with just a whiff of romance. It is, more than anything, a polished exercise in pure virtuoso style.

You have to applaud Apoorva Lakhia and Moser Baer to produce a genre which is lost in the business. You have admire Shawn Arranha for choosing to direct a genre which people have forgotten about, and you have to give plaudits to the actors for being part of a genre where they need to thrill the audiences more than just entertain them.

Hide And Seek is a suspense yarn with so many twists and turns you're never quite sure where it's going to wind up.

And the trip is enormously satisfying. It's a corker of a film because it's smarter than you are.

Places for songs in a film like Hide And Seek are scarce but if you have patience, you may enjoy Maula and Friday Night as the end credits roll.

Having said that, there is only space for the background score: Amar Mohile enhances the thrill and gives us a thrilling background which makes our suspicions more suspicious.

As the narrative progresses, Hide And Seek constantly raises the stakes. The audience is only slowly let into the story - at the beginning, everyone on-screen knows more than we do. Gradually, however, the skein of deceptions and plot devices is untangled by the switches back and forth between present and past.

This film requires that a viewer pay careful attention to details. Those who get lost have only themselves to blame.

A film like this doesn't take any prisoners. A trip to the bathroom or the snack bar will leave you floundering when you return.

The performances in a film like Hide And Seek are a gamble. Why? Because you don't know who's acting and who isn't. Got it? If not, you either don't know what a thriller means or are new to this genre.

Arjan Bajwa is the perfect maniac. A marathi manus at his best.

For few, he may come across as over the top but in a film where confusion is more important than contribution, he excels.

Debutant Amruta Patki is an absolute find. She is so naturally terrified that you want to be next to her, while Purab Kohli was just perfect, Mrinalini Sharma acts with sweet perfection, and Sameer Kocchar and Aayaz Khan could have done better.

But that's what a star cast in a film like this can do. It doesn't give you the scope to perform widely and vividly.

When was the last time you purchased popcorn and didn't eat it? When was the last time you taxed your brain in any film? When was the last time you argued over who or who isn't the killer an hour after the film ended? For more questions and answers, watch Hide And Seek.

Give Shawn Arranha credit for uniqueness. The director isn't a dummy. He has taken time to construct a puzzle that holds up under scrutiny.

Hide And Seek is just the game for an audience fully up to the challenge. If you can't play, you're defeated, and if you're thinking not to witness this game, you're a loser.