Director: Milan Luthria

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Ileana D’Cruz, Vidyut Jammwal, Esha Gupta, Sanjai Mishra

Milan Luthria has carved a career out of directing “movies” that try to appear smarter and slicker than they really are. The background score is an extended hero-entry theme. Dialogues are glorified nursery rhymes designed to elicit whistles rather than logic. Cigarettes and smoke defy laws of gravity. Characters voice their opinions (“Kitna saara sona hai!”) with the studied urgency of intelligent rocket scientists. Plot twists are treated like the cure for cancer has been discovered. Sometimes, it seems like the twist is first written for dramatic effect, before the entire screenplay is tailored to fit in this precise moment.

Many call this mainstream or masala storytelling; I call this outdated, tone-deaf filmmaking.

Much of this is down to Luthria’s long-time collaboration with writer, Rajat Aroraa. Except for perhaps Taxi No. 9211, none of their films have faces that look like they belong outside of the scripts they occupy. One can only imagine them dancing – and perishing – to the bombastic whims of Aroraa for two-something hours. But when there’s no “Silk” or “Dawood” to exaggerate upon, Baadshaho is the decidedly lame result.

Rajasthani rooftop chases and arid deserts – add in a reincarnation angle, and this could have well been a dusty 1990s Rakesh Roshan production

Baadshaho is pointless in many ways. Not least because it takes the famed Abbas-Mustan heist formula and turns it into somewhat of an aggressively boring road movie. Aroraa’s only Rajat-ism is “woh army hai, toh hum haraami hai!” – a fall from grace for a wordsmith whose trademark is to cause death by hyperbole.

It isn’t even bad enough to enjoy, and is so derivative and mediocre that the endless sequences and planning perfectly suit the bland actors participating in them. Even the action is so unimaginative. Flying jeeps, callous highway shootouts, Rajasthani rooftop chases and arid deserts – add in a reincarnation angle, and this could have well been a dusty 1990s Rakesh Roshan production. The story, though, is based in the backdrop of the 1975 Indira Gandhi declared Emergency – the second recent Hindi film to do so after Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar.

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This time, an evil Sanjay Gandhi (Priyanshu Chatterjee), in the wake of his brutal sterilization movement, forces the army to “confiscate” all the royal gold of the young Queen of Jodhpur, Maharani Gitanjali Devi (Ileana D’Cruz), and imprison her. Mostly because she rebuffs his sexual advances at a party two years ago. And mostly, because the BJP government is currently in power. The damsel in jailed distress wants her “khazana” back (I can only think of Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khana Khazana because it has been a hungry, coffee-less Friday morning).

Enter her loyal bodyguard and part-time lover, Bhawani (Ajay Devgn; can his stoner eyes look any more uninterested in his craft?), who vows to steal back her wealth with his ragtag team (Emraan Hashmi, Esha Gupta, Sanjai Mishra – all serving specialist purposes that would put Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean series to shame) when it’s on the way to Delhi in an armored truck. The truck (pronounced “tharak” by the locals) is supervised by sturdy army man Vidyut Jammwal, whose fake moustache is far more expressive than any of the harebrained humans on screen.

Every phase feels like an unoriginal ingredient – a painfully long torture-porn sequence, the mandatory sub-romance between lookers Hashmi and Gupta, the ulterior motives of Jammwal, D’Cruz’s excellent kisses, and so on

And we know Bhawani is faithful to a fault. How? In the beginning, to prove his undying commitment, he drives her in a jeep straight off the cliff into a river so that she understands the importance of her inner strength. They survive and make out. Next, during a song, he walks blindly across a live Polo match towards her as perplexed horses run past him on the field presumably wondering why one of them looks so different. And lastly, she brings in most sunsets aesthetically disrobing on the palatial terrace in his arms.

Theirs is an equation that is supposed to drive the outrageousness of the Great Indian Road Heist. But this quickly begins to resemble a rejected Roadies episode instead. I could swear there were times during this “exciting” journey in which even the bullets couldn’t care less. They kept missing easy targets. Every phase feels like an unoriginal ingredient – a painfully long torture-porn sequence, the mandatory sub-romance between lookers Hashmi and Gupta, the ulterior motives of Jammwal, D’Cruz’s excellent kisses, and so on.

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Before the show gets on the road, Devgn and co. decide to “test” out their opposition; Hashmi steals Jammwal’s wallet as soon as he steps onto the railway platform and leads him on a wild goose chase across town. Later, Devgn calmly hands Jammwal back the wallet and eyes him with what could best be described as lust – a horribly executed spin on the classic hero-confronts-villain-before-game trope.

Perhaps the best moment is a competent cameo by Virat Kohli. Unfortunately, the advertisement he appears in isn’t part of Baadshaho. To be fair, the long interval did bolster the pace of the film.

Watch the trailer here:

 

Rating:   star

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