Prehistoric sharks. Sharks with amplified intelligence. Three-headed sharks. The shark film has long thrived in Hollywood, with one offshoot being numerous ripoffs of Jaws (1975). It’s also one subgenre in which Indian cinema is sorely lacking. We looked through Indian cinematic history and tried to round up its shark films, which mainly exist so the hero can fight one in an effort to establish his badassery. Following the release of Meg 2: The Trench, here are some of them:
Aatank begins with the recurring shots of a shark leaping out of the water from different angles, but it takes 50 minutes and three song sequences before it finally makes an appearance again. How odd for a film in which events move at such speed that a young orphan is adopted in one scene and his newfound mother dies in the next. Instead, the movie spends less time on sharks and more time on Catholicism – the protagonist’s name is Jesu (Dharmendra), Mother Mary is alleged to have appeared at the coastal town he lives in and rare black pearls found in the ocean are believed to be the tears she shed at Jesus’ crucifixion. When the shark does appear, it looks – and is sized – comically like a plush toy, which only makes it even funnier when the film cuts to it engulfing its victims whole. Anatomical correctness, where? The shark also screams when it attacks, presumably to scare its victims more. Aatank also makes room for a pearl smuggling plot, a found-family drama and a scene taken straight from Jaws 2 (1978), in which the shark fights a helicopter. Dharmendra harpooning a (suddenly giant?) shark, though? That’s wholly original.
A treasure-hunting plot also makes up most of Blue, in which a real shark appears early on to butt heads (quite literally) with Sanjay Dutt, who plays the diver Sagar. The actor proceeds to wrestle with it for several more minutes before Akshay Kumar (as fishing company owner Aarav) jumps in, pushing the shark out through a hole in their net and rescuing the rest of their catch. Once again, however, the shark takes a backseat to plots of drag racing, gunfighting, Kylie Minogue chiggy wiggy-ing and machismo-flaunting (seriously, why does so much of a movie called Blue take place on land?). Sharks reappear in the search for hidden oceanic treasure, with the characters inciting their bloodlust at one point before offering up their rival as a tasty snack. It’s an inventive sequence in a film that mostly relegates the animals to a background role. In this story of backstabbing and betrayal, maybe the film is trying to point out that the real sharks were the characters all along?
Chhatrapati has spawned unending YouTube clips of Prabhas fighting a shark, and unending YouTube reactions to Prabhas fighting a shark but the scene is just a small part of S.S. Rajamouli’s epic adventure about two estranged brothers. Prabhas plays Sivaji, a refugee labourer who makes an illegal living as part of a smuggling ring. Eventually nabbed aboard a ship, his captors stab him in the leg to incite the sharks’ bloodlust, then dunk him into the sea. This is the first we’ve seen of the grown-up Sivaji, and the scene exists to establish his heroism – cockily threatening his captors despite having no leverage over them, remaining utterly calm underwater and finally, riding a CGI shark underwater. At one point, the shark resembles a bucking bull, with Prabhas on its back, clinging on to its fin for dear life. The two also have a prolonged stare-off in the water, with the film having little regard for logic, or even Sivaji’s presumably need for oxygen.
Fish metaphors emerge early in Warning – “One bad fish can spoil the whole bad pond,” says a character – but it takes much longer for a shark to show up. The seven school friends reunited on a yacht trip must first ogle each other in their swimwear, navigate lingering romantic tensions and find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean, unable to get back on board after accidentally retracting the yacht’s ladder. When the shark appears around 40 minutes in, the camera seems more interested focusing on the bikini-clad limbs of the characters it’s swimming around rather than conjuring any sense of danger. The lecherous gaze of this survival thriller continues with the characters then taking off their clothes to make a makeshift rope. Most of the second half is soundtracked by the relentless loud crying of a baby on board, which is perhaps that’s why the shark appears only intermittently to swim circles around the characters and then leave, probably deciding the meal isn't worth the noise. At least it gets its dinner by the end.