Force 2 Review: A forced sequel with a forceful villain

Once again John Abraham’s lifeless on-screen persona allows the villain- played by Tahir Raj Bhasin – to steal the show

Director: Abhinay Deo

Cast: John Abraham, Sonakshi Sinha, Tahir Raj Bhasin

Rating: 2.5 stars

It’s not the first time John Abraham has played a character numbed by grief and loss, and it won’t be the last. A tragic backstory (usually a loved one’s death slaughter) is supposed to justify his remarkably expressionless face, or in other words, his complete lack of acting talent and deadpan tone. But he is scientifically legitimate: his inertia over the years has been powerful enough to create (centrifugal) Force.

John Abraham Force 2

Action heroes can get away by resembling robotic bulldozers – the godfather of this breed went on to govern California after a successful film career; such is the physicality of the genre’s visual language. We’re meant to emotionally invest in them precisely because they don’t have the ability to invest in themselves. And we’re to imagine their hearts breaking louder than their bones.

However, with these Big-Moose destroyers getting increasingly inconceivable in this digital age, most filmmakers now design entire franchises with the old-fashioned brawns v/s modern brains card. It is often pitched as the battle of two times, a war of ages, where old is always gold.

John’s on-screen persona is more a consequence – than a channeling – of his limitations, which is why, in his case, the villain will always steal the show.

James Bond has long condescended on technology by being stubborn about his rugged hand-combat and pistol-in-the-space-age ways. Die Hard 4 (Live Free Or Die Hard) further increased the brain-cell gap by pitting the most iconic creaky-hero stereotype, Bruce Willis, against the inherent flamboyance of cyber terrorism (Timothy Olyphant). Sunny Deol tried the caveman-versus-hacker thing in Ghayal Once Again to surprising effect. But Abraham just doesn’t have that legacy about him. His on-screen persona is more a consequence – than a channeling – of his limitations, which is why, in his case, the villain will always steal the show. Even Rocky Handsome’s ridiculously hammy villain (Teddy Maurya) was its only takeaway.

Take this sequel, Force 2 (or Force square?), for example. He reprises his tree-trunk ACP Yashvardhan cop role from Force, in a brand new situation with old baggage. Because it isn’t obvious enough, he actually warns crooks before beating them up: “I’m satkela (insane) after my wife died”.

And then comes Tahir Raj Bhasin, last seen in Mardaani as the ultimate modern-day ‘urban’ villain, cool as a Cheshire cat in hoodies and stubbles, again brandishing nothing but brat-pack attitude and a laptop.

John reprises his tree-trunk ACP Yashvardhan cop role from Force, in a brand new situation with old baggage. Because it isn’t obvious enough, he actually warns crooks before beating them up: “I’m satkela (insane) after my wife died”.

And the film becomes his.

Bhasin was a find in Mardaani, and though he pretty much internalizes the same energy here, Force 2 finds a personality, a demonic mood, through him. His smart-alecky drawls and patronizing taunts awaken the force within a rekindled cinematic rivalry. In fact, as the Budapest-based deshdrohi brainchild behind the killings of undercover RAW agents, Bhasin (as Shiv Sharma) is so good – combined with Abraham being so Abraham-ish – that one keeps rooting for him. He deserves a John McClaine, or a machine from the future, chasing him across Europe.

Yet, for now, he makes do with two efficient statues – Sonakshi Sinha, as Yash’s femme-fatale partner-in-grime, insists on emulating Abraham’s no-smile policy. Their chemistry is non-existent, but they’re made to share the screen with Bhasin so often that even their stunt doubles lack his lithe style.

By the end, you want all the lengthy chase sequences (check: street chase, car chase, rooftop chase) to just stop so that he can speak more and smirk at his enemies – who soon become our enemies, too, traditional terminology be damned. He embodies the heroic villain to Yash’s villainous and painfully monotonous hero, which sort of bins our preconditioned good-versus-evil loyalties.

Sonakshi Sinha Force 2

But who wanted dour Batman to defeat the Joker anyway? Let these vengeful geniuses kill and trick folks, let them burn the world; his style tells us they deserve it, his face tells us he has been wronged.

Shiv’s backstory is as clichéd as his counterpart’s, but you don’t see him go terminator on us. Only, tree-trunk Yash, as is the case with most muscular beefcakes, is lucky enough to vent on the right side of the law. His brainless violence is accepted in context of legal positioning; it’s still as personal, as ill advised and discreditable. That doesn’t make him more likeable; it just makes this particular baddie more empathetic.

In this case, the performance humanizes the villain to such an extent that the hero seems repulsive. That could be an issue, depending on how one perceives the tropes of mainstream entertainment.

Bhasin was a find in Mardaani, and though he pretty much internalizes the same energy here, Force 2 finds a personality, a demonic mood, through him.

Director Abhinay Deo slides in tired themes of patriotism and politicians, but at no point does it seem that these two are not in charge. Yash even ends up bossing the RAW boss (Narendra Jha; wasted) regularly on official phone calls, which only goes to show why all the spy-jargon and technical self-seriousness (urgent words supposed to lend authenticity to these fictitious missions) should be done away with to keep things as unpretentious as possible. Even Stallone understands that.

Young Bhasin (why isn’t he in more films?) may have unknowingly begun a much-needed overhaul in Hindi cinema by doing the same role twice: the evolution of the outlaw. With him, the desi villain, too, has finally gone digital.

tahir raj bhasin

Bollywood flashes by even as he switches generational gears within the film itself: from his dated introduction as the mysterious retro harmonica-playing psycho (reminiscent of Mukesh Rishi’s ominous flute-playing in Judwaa), to the smooth-talking guy-next-door mastermind circa 2016. The circle of criminality is complete. Eventually, because of him, and despite Budapest looking oddly flat on screen, this film fakes the intelligence of an actioner far better than expected. It’s slick when ek villain is around, and goofy when he isn’t. Its force, too, quite literally, lies with him.

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