Dinshaw Sethna (Naseeruddin Shah) is an aging, reclusive, pot-addled artist who lives in a dingy, cluttered rural bungalow with his restless wife Katy (Dimple Kapadia). One day Cyrus Mistry (Saif Ali Khan) shows up at their doorstep. Cyrus, who narrates the story, offers his services to Dinshaw, and ends up taking on a wide variety of household jobs and errands for the family, especially Katy. Cyrus introduces the Bombay branch of the family - Dinshaw's frail, elderly father Fardoonjee (Honey Chhaya), Dinshaw's brother Farokh Sethna (Boman Irani), and Farokh's demure bride Tina (Simone Singh). As Cyrus's narration grows increasingly dark and cryptic, he airs the Sethna family's dirty laundry. Fardoonjee lives in squalor and dementia in a back room of Farokh and Tina's apartment, starved and neglected. Katy, flirtatious and frustrated, is having a clandestine affair with her brother-in-law Farokh. And Cyrus, as his narration announces, is "playing them like a violin."
As the film spins and twists toward its grim climax, the wrinkles in Cyrus's psyche unfurl in a series of complex metaphors - chess games, scrambled eggs, torn dolls - suggesting the film's themes of manipulation, of irreparable, catastrophic change, and of the lasting effects of familial contempt and dysfunction. The symbolism is at times a little too thick, too self-consciously arty, but on the whole Being Cyrus is suspenseful, engrossing, and satisfying.
Being Cyrus offers fresh cinematography and evocative visuals. Everything in Dinshaw's rustic home is gray with pottery dust, and the garden is a verdant tangle of overgown brambles; Fardoonjee's one-room Bombay prison seems caked in a layer of grime. The film also sports spooky background music that sets a sinister tone long before the narrative has begun to uncover the Sethna family's lurking demons. But what really drives the film is the astonishingly good performances from all of its principals. Saif Ali Khan presents Cyrus as shielded, methodical; wearing the numb, languid expression of a man who is truly broken, he is both chilling and sympathetic. Naseeruddin Shah, though underused, is perfect as the tripping, philosophical potter.
Dimple Kapadia, though, thoroughly steals the show. Her Katy vibrates like a fly trapped under a glass, straining and agitated, driven to distraction by the failure of her life and marriage to live up to her romantic, cosmopolitan expectations. It is a tremendous credit to Dimple's talent that she is vastly charismatic and appealing, even when playing a singularly unappealing, trashy, and narcissistic character. Being Cyrus is a compelling illustration of the range and potential of this fascinating actress.