It is a little surprising that Yeh Saali Zindagi comes from the veteran directorial chair of Sudhir Mishra, because it's more like a talented debut venture, good-intentioned, enthusiastic and sparkling fresh in its best parts but also saddled with a lack of discretion and sloppy meandering that could, if avoided, have made for a better film.
You have to of course give kudos to a script whose central romance kicks off with a scam where the wheeler-dealer protagonist (Irfan Khan) protects the woman he is attracted to (Chitrangda Singh) from financial ruin and arrest by coaxing her to get the thumb impression of her dead brother lying in his coffin. Sadly for Irfan (whose noir-inspired voiceover introduces the various plot threads) it's a one-sided romance since his lady love is unaware of his feelings and happily flirts with another man. Her affair with an industrialist's son runs aground when her lover and she are kidnapped by a band of thugs as hostages. The thugs are headed by confident debutant Arunoday Singh who needs them to obtain the release of a big-shot gangster (Yashpal Sharma) from Tihar jail. Chitrangda is sent off by the thugs to obtain the terms for her boyfriend's release. Irfan's infatuation for her gets him involved in the messy proceedings joined by a huge cast of peripheral characters.
The bulk of the film is a black comedy with a lot of convoluted situations, deus ex machinas and double and triple crosses. Manu Rishi who did a great job with the writing of Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye once more shows a fine ear for funny lines (with a lot of cussing, mind). Add to this a stylized narration with flashbacks and rapid-fire shifting between characters, locations and perspectives, and you have a concoction that in its best moments is hilarious and charming. The leads show palpable enthusiasm for their roles and it was also great to see other contemporary actors I admire (Sushant Singh, Yashpal Sharma) getting meaty parts where their talent is showcased.
But I also thought that YSL suffered from having too many plot threads clamoring for attention. Some, like Arunoday's pursuit of a wife sick of his criminal ways, bear little relation to the central narrative and could have been easily excised out. Some of the characters, like the big-shot gangster's fashionista brother (Prashant Narayanan), had a very slapped-together quality to them. Most of the film is shot in and around Delhi giving a good sense of location, and the sudden jump to Mumbai for the climax is a jarring note (although more than matched in absurdity by the unnecessary and bone-headed action maneuver pulled by Irfan's character in the climax). While the end product was still likeable overall, these flabby elements detracted sufficiently from the experience for me to not be unqualifiedly enthusiastic about my viewing, and I doubt I'll be looking forward to revisit.