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Kaabil Review: Worthy Of A Failing System

Director Sanjay Gupta’s thriller is a challenge to sit through, largely because of its daft script

Rahul DesaiRahul Desai

January 25, 2017 | 12:01 PM

FC Rating

★★★★★
film-companion
Kaabil Review: Worthy Of A Failing System

Director: Sanjay Gupta

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Yami Gautam, Ronit Roy, Rohit Roy, Suresh Menon

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

At some point in her career, Yami Gautam will have to sit down and introspect a little. What is it about her that makes filmmakers want to repeatedly cast her as a violated, brutalized, murdered and – horribly killed – young wife? Does she always seem more lovable in hindsight? Does she have tragic eyes? Why is she Hindi cinema’s favourite posthumous heroine? Does she want fans to always remember her with an omnipresent garland around her picture?

It forever seems that Gautam’s roles are comprised of happy flashbacks, where she is either a sad-smiley ghost or a halo-wearing memory spurring on her wronged lover to exact eternal vengeance. 

This is a rather unfortunate brand of stereotyping: after Action Jackson (where she was pounded to dust in a concrete parking lot) and Badlapur (a simple bullet), she is once again reduced to a glowing has-been (literally), but in the most heinous way possible. Because it’s Sanjay Gupta, and he has clearly been watching a lot of bleak Korean movies.

This time, in Kaabil, as if being raped twice over isn’t merciless enough, her character is visually impaired too – unforgiving traits that attempt to lend even more gravitas to Hrithik Roshan’s (as her husband, Rohan) trembling cheeks.

It forever seems that Gautam’s roles are comprised of happy flashbacks, where she is either a sad-smiley ghost or a halo-wearing memory spurring on her wronged lover to exact eternal vengeance. 

By the time she dies, I had a numbing headache – not because of the vehement injustice perpetrated on Rohan, or because I was overcome with crippling grief of having my senses assaulted on a Wednesday morning, or because Roshan oscillates between Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish10 to portray a disability he has not an inking about, or even because the Brothers Roy (Ronit, Rohit) play a bunch of depraved, awfully villainous and laughably caricatured Marathi politicians. 

I suspect it was all because of the background score, which insists on presenting itself in crescendo-format, as if an ingenious revelation shot is always around the corner. I also suspect this music is designed as a generous audio-braille book – that is, to handhold its visually impaired audience, and even those who refuse to look at the screen because of how ragingly stupid this film is. What a noble thought. 

To give you a better idea, let me describe a supposedly clever scene. Rohan is under house arrest by the cops (led by Narendra Jha, who speaks measuredly, as if he were decoding actions worthy of The Prestige and not a B-grade Bollywood thriller), in case he gets out to murder his final target. Till now, he has contrived to make his victims not die by his own hands, with the kind of gory innovative traps that would make the Final Destination and Saw series commit collective suicide. 

Of course, he gets out to accomplish his task. When it is revealed how, we are shown the old Hijab trick and some mysterious smoke distracting the police – that is, he turns an already-dumb illusion into something vastly dumber, and two negatives are supposed to make a positive. That’s his wife's line, not mine. 

As is quite apparent, Kaabil is a challenge to sit through. It relies on a daft script that decides to make Roshan a professional dubbing artist to fill its giant loopholes. How does a blind hero go about wrecking havoc, you ask? By using his mimicry talent, of course. How do we justify making a film so detached from earthly happenings that even the tag ‘mainstream’ seems far-fetched? By casting a fading star, blinded by his own recent failures, desperate enough to turn to a notorious story re-teller who believes redemption is a visually extravagant orgy of extremes. 

For a while in the beginning, Roshan is fairly puppy-eyed and sincere. But as soon as he begins to dance, as soon as he is reminded of his own legacy, blindness starts to look more like a mental disability. He returns to being the actor who has shaped his on-screen individuality as a series of kneejerk reactions – the quintessential anti-Khan, a career built on seeking space in Bollywood’s superhero universe instead of the pursuit of excellence, currently struggling for an identity as much as his predecessors.

Kaabil is a challenge to sit through. It relies on a daft script that decides to make Roshan a professional dubbing artist to fill its giant loopholes.

On the whole, the lack of research and basic sensitivity, for a big-budget film in 2017, is astounding. The leads’ condition is eventually used as a vapid device to make Kaabil not seem like a deformed version of Mohra (give me a ‘cinematically’ blind Naseeruddin Shah any day), and to give Roshan an opportunity to revolutionize the wronged-action-hero template, currently monopolized by John Abraham’s expressive muscles. 

On all counts, though, we deserve a better Republic Day weekend. Not one where we are forced to impair our own vision, reduce our standards, drink in familiar sights, conjure up low yardsticks, drown in nostalgia and be ‘satisfied’ with our childhood heroes simply showing up on the silver screen. Perhaps it’s time we stop pigeonholing the damage of mediocre cinema by holding it up in terms of its stars’ “form” (‘Shah Rukh is back in business!’ ‘This is Hrithik’s best performance in 1.8 years’). The actors can’t stand out in any way because they are the sole reasons these films exist. If they didn’t, perhaps the writers would have had to work harder for a living.

Kaabil is yet another brick in a wall that is rapidly becoming far more of a worry than the one a certain leader of the Free World is planning. Because no harebrained legislature, signature, wrecking ball or protest march can undo the death of poor taste.