What is a Siddharth Anand movie? Nobody knows. On a good day, it’s called creative versatility. On a bad day, it’s called artistic anonymity. In that sense, the film-maker has a wide range. His career graph can be divided into two distinct halves. After co-writing the smash hit Hum Tum (2004), he started out as ‘Romcom Anand’ – directing four movies – before switching to ‘Action Anand’ – directing four more movies. Both alter-egos have yielded mixed results. Every film is a mixed bag of inspired, inane and everything in between. Every scene is a mixed bag of technical swag and narrative folly. He has a knack for entry shots and real-world subtext, but he also has a weakness for antiquated storytelling and compromised scales. There is a safety to his risk-taking and a plausibility to his imagination. In other words, Sid Anand is a spy unto his own craft. Nobody can tell his glorious moments from his inglorious ones, his masala from his spices – and perhaps this plasticity is the root of his box-office success.
On that enigmatic note, here are all eight of his feature films, ranked from bottom to top. Or is it from top to bottom? Nobody knows. But maybe we might find the true meaning of a Siddharth Anand film along the way.
Anand’s second film haunts me to this day – and not in a good way. The warning bells went off with “rum” in the title. The YRF motorsport melodrama was the Befikre (2016) of a bygone decade; it marked rock-bottom for a production house that was trying to churn out trendy MTV-era content. Nothing good ever comes out of a movie in which kids are nicknamed Champ and Princess. American stock car racing became the unsuspecting casualty in a poverty-porn-strewn story that featured an NRI couple (Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherji undoing their Hum Tum chemistry) struggling to make ends meet after the taxi-driver-turned-pro loses his speed mojo in a near-fatal accident. And by “struggling to make ends meet,” I mean the children secretly save lunch money, scavenge burgers from trash-cans and get hospitalised for glass in their stomachs. To be fair, I learnt of the term ‘PTSD’ from this Hindi movie, just as I had learnt of ‘power of attorney’ from Baazigar (1993) – except Ta Ra Rum Pum managed to make a mockery of genres ranging from sports parody (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)) to underdog classics (Life is Beautiful (1997), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)). The only anecdote I can offer is that I had three peak-summer hours to kill between interviewing for a film-making course and the declaration of the results – and I chose the multiplex discomforts of Ta Ra Rum Pum. I passed the interview, and irony crashed into a flaming pitwall.
You couldn’t fault the unorthodox intent of Anjaana Anjaani, a Hindi movie about two young strangers who fall in love while fumbling through a suicide pact. But you could fault pretty much everything else (including an ill-placed but solid soundtrack). The NRI couple, played by Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, remained consistently tough to like, not least because the mainstream script reduced self-harm to shallow and fashion-forward devices. Hipster-sad Akash and Kiara keep failing to kill themselves – the morbid comedy isn’t the problem – but the movie seemed to be oblivious to its decoration of their senses. There was no density to their pain, no purpose to their conveniently scenic journey. Even for its time, it managed to frame depression as more of an aspirational, meet-cute state of mind. You didn’t have to be woke to understand that there’s a thin line between a quirky exploration of mental health and the trivialization of its consequences. Not once did it feel like the film actually cared for its protagonists and the concept of death itself – which remains quite a feat, given the acting talent at hand.
On paper, this was an ideal descendent of War (2019) and Pathaan (2023). It should’ve worked wonders: He-who-can-do-no-wrong Hrithik Roshan, She-miracle Deepika Padukone, the Indianisation of Top Gun, the hottest director in B-town. Missing, however, is the legacy studio tag of YRF – and by extension, a wistful take on cross-border tensions. The result: A loud colonisation of disputed history, where jingoism becomes the only currency of entertainment. The romance lies between India and India, leaving no space for any sort of meta stamp or star power. Roshan’s aura is consumed by the tone, and he ends up over-playing second fiddle in a film that sacrifices its cinematic potential at the altar of modern discourse. The earth is the limit for this sky-laden action drama – tasteless villains, Pakistani caricatures and tepid writing reduce an ambitious Sid Anand actioner to a generic Air Force tribute without a voice. Not to mention its reading of patriotism, which equates pride for one’s own country with spite for the rest.
If you look at Siddharth Anand’s remake of Knight and Day as a very expensive litmus test for War – or even as a noisy first over of his decade-long ‘action’ innings – it may just be possible to look beyond its image as a mediocre version of a middling Tom Cruise movie. (Or not). All the signs of a brighter future were there, though: That electro-beat musical rhythm and ridi-cool-ous set pieces, the uncanny sound editing, the physical payoffs, the blurry pace, the quasi-political punches. It tried to capitalise on Katrina Kaif’s Ek Tha Tiger fame, while selling Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish Kool Aid in a new bottle. But the long and derivative spectacle left no room to appreciate the high-intensity chases and knotty plot contrivances. At best it felt like a lesser Agent Vinod (2012) – an equally greedy but striking misfire – because of how blandly it adapted the Western action template. It also didn’t help, or perhaps it did, that Roshan had more chemistry with himself than any other human in the alleged action comedy.
Anand’s homage to the House of YashRaj came gift-wrapped in overseas-market gloss, where karma – or at least Bollywood’s plush appropriation of it – played the hero. Ranbir Kapoor starred as Raj, a can-dance-can-charm playboy who breaks two hearts, gets heartbroken and then sets about trying to repair those shattered hearts as an act of globe-trotting salvation. The film hasn’t aged too well, but there are a few sparks to be found in Kapoor’s man-child origin story, the sadness-for-millennials soundtrack, and YRF’s sporting takedown of its entitled-lover-boy legacy. Given that the film was penned by women (Devika Bhagat and Anvita Dutt), it was refreshing to see the irresistible hero trying to hold himself accountable and pay for the whims of his sexist movie ancestors. There’s also early evidence of Anand’s snug relationship with scale, musicality, multiplex aesthetics and narrative superficiality – all of which became both strengths and weaknesses during his action-movie revival.
Kya Kehna ran so that Salaam Namaste could chill. Siddharth Anand’s surprisingly bold debut starred Peak Saif Ali Khan and Peak Preity Zinta as a mainstream Bollywood couple that normalized: 1) Live-in relationships, 2) Premarital sex, 3) Pregnancy out of wedlock, 4) Commitmentphobia, 5) Australia (it may sound strange, but tell that to long-suffering Indian cricket fans). That’s a whole lot of progressive messaging for a first film, never mind a chic YRF romcom that interprets newness as more of a physical trait than a cultural take. One could accuse the designer Melbourne-based dramedy of being too cute and brawny – of borrowing too much (from Nine Months) and looking too self-satisfied – but Salaam Namaste just about earned its social stripes. It was conversational, confrontational, silly, slapstick and sharp – like a curious beauty-pageant star determined to be taken seriously. Despite its surface-level caricature, the movie was ahead of its time in terms of theme if not treatment. And who can forget Jaaved Jaffrey’s cult brown-immigrant spoof – an MCP (weren't they all?) comic character that went viral when going viral was still a medical diagnosis. Wireless internet in 2006 simply wasn’t quick enough to cancel Crocodile Dundee. Sorry? Not Egg-jactly.
If Shah Rukh Khan is an identity woven into the cultural fabric of this country, imagine his real-world comeback – embattled superstar in an embattled land – augmented into a fictional metaverse. Pathaan arrived as the perfect right-time-right-place spy thriller, marrying biographical stealth with old-school patriotism. It’s the sort of movie that will always be bigger than its film-making; it’s to Anand’s credit that he merged man and moment in such a roguish medley of homegrown tropes. There’s fun to be had in Khan’s secular riff on India-saving heroism, Deepika Padukone’s peerless eye-acting, the goofy Bond-meets-Hunt set pieces, the pulpy writing, the Salman Khan cameo, and John Abraham’s nationless and hunky rendition of evil. It’s safe to say that Pathaan also restored the sanctity – and sanity – of the Bollywood theatrical experience. It set the stage for the redemption of mainstream Hindi cinema in a year headlined by a SRK hat-trick. The night was an age of broken records, but the dawn broke all records.
I’d like to say something smart like “Siddharth Anand’s career was building up to this definitive moment” or “an overnight triumph 15 years in the making”. But it’s just not true, is it? War, the director’s second all-out actioner, came like a bolt from the blockbuster blue. This was neither Salaam Namaste Anand nor Bang Bang Anand yet it was also both – it’s evident that the film meant (not just box-office) business the moment Tiger Shroff kicked Maltese butt in a phenomenally choreographed single-take opening. This was more like Dhoom Anand, which, as it turns out, is an uncanny hybrid of campy and cool; of Bollywood plot and Hollywood style; of masculine text and homoerotic subtext; of meta stardom and cheesy (or feta?) patriotism. This was also the timely resurrection of Hrithik Roshan, a Hindi film star whose charisma has always been in pursuit of a genre. The ripping muscles, fluid body and Greek-God-like physique have rarely found such an adoring gaze. And the spy-verse had just found its poetry.