Director: Ahmed Khan

Cast: Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani, Manoj Bajpayee, Randeep Hooda, Darshan Kumar, Prateik Babbar

Baaghi 2, directed by choreographer Ahmed Khan, introduces its “rebel”, a hot-blooded, hyper-nationalistic army boy named Captain Ranveer Singh (Tiger Shroff, not Ranveer Singh), by having him parade a gun-toting Kashmiri man as a human shield on his jeep so that the locals cannot pelt him. The writers virtually reduce decades of communal conflict into the callousness of a fleeting establishment scene – one that is to have zero bearing on the story, and one that perhaps only tells us that Ronny Singh is a deflected Neeraj Pandey protagonist.

Border Baby Ronny then gets a call from his ex-girlfriend, Neha, who begs him to meet her in Goa. At this point, the film could have easily turned into an erotic holiday comedy. But as we’ve learned over the course of so many elaborately researched Hindi thrillers, Goa means drugs, corruption, child trafficking, Russians, bad cops, hipster villains, more Russians with German accents and general hell; Goa is now the East Europe of Bollywood. Sunil, Anna and the gang must have lost their innocence somewhere in their pursuit of avenging the death of don Anthony Gomes at a rave party. As per the belief of today’s ruling politicians, Goa is of course the ultimate embodiment of Paradise Lost. Our movies do the rest.

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It is revealed in Goa that Neha’s three-year-old daughter has been kidnapped, and nobody is helping her. This is the plot. But Baaghi 2 is so long that by the time Ronny manages to rescue her, the little girl grew up, took up acting as a profession, uncannily resembled Shraddha Kapoor, moved to Mumbai and did two films under the pseudonym ‘Disha Patani’. She even insists on demonstrating her sunshine attitude by dancing in the rain – a shot that must have definitely convinced Ronny that he is actually still fighting baddies in Baaghi (2016), where he had set out to rescue a kidnapped Shraddha Kapoor.

It’s therefore not surprising to see poor Shroff almost pulling out his hair and screaming at everyone (including a chair) by the end of his rampage; he is so confused. It could also be that he must have noticed how this film is filled with good actors in pointless roles – Manoj Bajpayee, Randeep Hooda, Deepak Dobriyal – that keep distracting us from his own mental turmoil. Speaking about ‘mental,’ teenaged Ronny woos teenaged Neha by declaring that he loves the mental aspect of her personality: “you aren’t like those creative types in college; you look focused.”

The first half of Baaghi 2, at least thematically, is vaguely reminiscent of the Jodie Foster starrer, Flightplan (2005) – an airplane thriller in which a grieving woman searching for her daughter is made to doubt her own sanity after it is found that there is no evidence of the child’s existence. There is only one action scene in the first hour, in which Ronny wrecks havoc at Panaji police station while making sure that a miniature national flag goes unharmed. For a film designed by a “choreographer,” it’s no small wonder that combat sequences are still characterized by incompetent henchmen who insist on attacking and being destroyed in turns, rather than – maybe, just maybe – ganging up on the hero together. Even wolves display better teamwork.

Baaghi 2 is a coke-injected descendent of the sullen John Abraham starrer – advertising Goa, wax-statue brooder looking for his ex’s little girl, soulless cops and a complete lack of originality

The writers try very hard to construct a kind of overpopulated tension that suggests Ronny has stumbled upon a conspiracy that is far bigger than his biceps. Everyone is bad, nobody can be trusted and Ronny simply has no patience to get to the bottom of things by using his mind. Hence, he uses the “soldier” card to Rambo the town so brutally that the climax – full of oriental extras and helicopters and hills – shocks Goa (Anjuna border, it seems) into resembling Vietnam. Moral of the story: Army is good, police is bad.

We also see the return of Prateik Babbar, who does his best to renew the utter ridiculousness of Teddy Maurya’s druglord-rapper-gangster-imbecile character from Nishikant Kamat’s Rocky Handsome. Come to think of it, Baaghi 2 is a coke-injected descendent of the sullen John Abraham starrer – advertising Goa, wax-statue brooder looking for his ex’s little girl, soulless cops and a complete lack of originality.

Tiger Shroff comes across as a nice boy – the kind whose politeness and sanskaars seem to be a result of being whipped into shape at home. It’s only natural that he plays an upright soldier then. Except, I’m not so sure about his obsession to symbolize India’s last action hero. An older John Abraham and even Vidyut Jammwal fit the status better because they often occupy films that rarely ask for anything more than their physicality – washboard abs, deadpan glares and ultra-human fitness – from them. The films respect their steroid-boosted limitations.

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The problem with the mild-mannered Shroff is that, perhaps due to his youngness, filmmakers feel a greedy responsibility to additionally squeeze the romance, comedy and basic melodrama templates out of him. He might be a skilled fighter, a hard worker, but he simply cannot emote in the mandatory flashback/love/grief sequences. In fact, he shouldn’t be put in a position to do so. There’s this misguided ambition to make him an all-round ‘superstar,’ when all he should really be doing is breaking bones and jumping across mountains.

It’s this heightened cinematic culture that we are so proud of – “Bollywood means naach-gana and masala” – that ironically denies us the opportunity to create world-class action cinema. At the most, it gives us a vapid Salman Khan style vehicle. At its very least, we get Ajay Devgn skiing off the Himalayas. Indian directors are so intent on equipping the bare skeleton (man sets out to rescue child) with the flab of empty entertainment – at one point a random wedding song appears, not to mention the ‘Ek Do Teen’ remake featuring an awfully undernourished Jacqueline Fernandez – that it’s impossible to remain loyal to one single genre across the duration of a feature-length film. I’d rather watch a hundred chase sequences and a goofily explosive climax (case in point: Ghayal Once Again) than watch a machine trying to be human for the sake of his audience. Action is an exclusive palette; it cannot be the sum total of every other emotion.

Either way, I suspect I will be reviewing Baaghi 8 in the near future. Perhaps by then, Hindi cinema will have moved on from believing that the Indian Army is composed of heartbroken college boys who decide to substitute women for country.

Rating:   star

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