2023 Wrap: Best Action Moments, From ‘Pathaan’ to ‘Maaveeran’

In a year that gave us one action film after another, we narrow down our favourite moments of exhilaration
2023 Wrap: Best Action Moments, From ‘Animal’ to ‘Maaveeran’
2023 Wrap: Best Action Moments, From ‘Animal’ to ‘Maaveeran’

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to us that action has been the genre of the year — the past few years if we’re being honest. From Animal’s Made-in-India machine guns (that come with a throne, mind you) to Leo’s CG hyena that takes down the bad guys in an intro worthy of the swankiest of stars, the year has been particularly high on action moments tailor-made to make us sit up and take notice. While a lot of us might still be reeling from action-fatigue — well-deservedly thanks to films high on adrenaline and machismo — films this year (some over-the-top and a few others, small yet spunky) have tried to infuse a dash of uniqueness to the exhaustiveness often associated with the genre. Here, we try to list some of our favourite action moments.

Interval fight in Maaveeran

How does one explain the genius of this scene without visual cues? Sivakarthikeyan’s Sathya is a comic artist who lands a punch or two with precision…well in his sketches at least and not IRL. So, when he’s forced to take up arms thanks to divine intervention (or Vijay Sethupathi’s voice to be precise), he runs away from this new-found strength, for Sathya is a man who believes in running away from his problems unlike the alpha men we’re used to seeing on the screen. So, he runs and runs until he can’t anymore. This is how Madonne Ashwin builds up to Maaveeran’s superb interval block. When he’s surrounded by rowdies and has nowhere to run, he finally gives into the voice, which shines the guiding light to survive. And suddenly, every bag of cement and brick is his friend, as he takes the bad guys down one by one, not by physical strength, but by smarts. Yannick Ben’s choreography is marvelous in the scene — one that deftly folds in a pinch of hilarity to the commercial masala fights we’ve grown up enjoying.

The cafe scene in Leo

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s flair for constructing indelible action sequences has never once been overlooked by audiences. Right from that small moment in a dark alley subway that prompts the protaganist to fight for the first time in Maanagram to Agent Tina’s surprising swing to action with the forks in Vikram, action sequences have held special space in a Loki film universe. Leo has been no exception. But the moment that stands out in a film that’s essentially an action film domino, is one of its simplest (in terms of technique). When Vijay’s Parthiban is closing up his cafe and enjoying some downtime with his daughter (by that we mean embarrassing his little one with his dad moves), intruders in the form of Mysskin and Sandy enter the cafe with trouble pasted on their faces. What begins as a simple ask for chocolate coffee, ends with some good old kicks, punches and irrecoverable third degree coffee burns. But what makes this scene special is its simplicity. One would think the tunes of ‘Karu Karu Karuppayi’ and ‘Thamarai Poovukum’ would cut the tension in the room. But Anbariv’s choreography seamlessly wounds itself onto the song and turns up the chills.

Ranvijay's corridor fight scene in Animal

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal brought to us an anti-hero in a bloodied kurta, spray painted Steve Madden shoes, wearing  another man’s undergarment as he heroically, single-handedly fought off scores of masked men in a dimly lit corridor (true to his earlier proclamation, he is an ‘alpha male’, albeit one whose body can be punctured, and needs to wear headphones to protect himself from the deafening sound of the explosion). Many were quick to point out the similarities to the iconic corridor fight in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003).

In Animal, this scene plays out with a rugged Ranbir Kapoor picking out an axe to brutally, and indiscriminately murder scores of men after their guns run out of bullets, and they are ridiculously outnumbered (he killed hundreds of them as we come to know, when he asks his wife why can't she forgive infidelity if she can forgive him for a hundred murders). Vijay’s need to protect his father has a manic urgency here. In a cheerleading effort, the cousins sing ‘Arjan Vailly’ to bolster his self-belief in taking on these large numbers of men from the enemy camp. It is easily the most memorable scene from a slew of violent sequences from the film, and one that has a three-part fighting structure that is able to drum up the stakes our hero is up against. If you also confused  "Arjan Vailly" with a regular fare of Hindi film songs that require you to gleefully suspend disbelief, you are not alone. Turns out, it was really a cousin cheering for another cousin in the moment as he is axing his way through his daddy issues. 

The handpump in Gadar 2

Gadar 2 has the audacity to spend screen time with a frame JUST focusing on the handpump. It is a relic from the first Gadar, its very mention enough to send shivers down the spine of the power-hungry moulvis after Tara Singh (Sunny Deol). 

What is striking is the kind of hero-entry shot reserved for actors being bestowed upon an object. It knows the audience will cheer. There is a will-he-wont-he tension. Will Tara Singh uproot the pump, then pump his muscles to bump off the Pakistanis? He doesn't need to. He merely looks at the pump, and growls, and, well, that is that. No hand pump was hurt in the making of the sequel. Our man is 20 years older than he was in the first Gadar, but that clearly doesn't matter - the pump don't slump.

Rubai and the machine gun in Pathaan

In Pathaan, Deepika Padukone's action sequences are pure dynamite. Rubai takes down her enemies in style — flinging champagne bottles with precision, executing slick flips to handle bad guys, and stealing the spotlight every time she brandishes a gun. In the finale, while Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan) is off on a wild jet-pack chase, she's holding it down, unleashing a hailstorm of bullets with a colossal machine gun. It's like watching a choreographed dance of destruction. What makes her the ultimate action hero? She's not about conforming to old-school toughness; instead, she brings a mix of killer moves, unmatched skills, and a grace that turns fight scenes into a lethal work of art.

Deepika Padukone in Pathaan
Deepika Padukone in Pathaan

The Train Chase in Joram

One of the great things about Manoj Bajpayee is the perfectly calibrated physicality of his performances. He's very much a body actor, and he moves not like an action hero but an agile everyman. A striking moment in Joram features Bajpayee, as a desperate Adivasi man on the run with his infant daughter, dodging the Mumbai police on a moving train to Jharkhand. It's choreographed in a way that makes it look chaotic and unrehearsed. The tension is hardly conventional. He hides in the toilet first, gets caught, then snakes his way through the compartments while being chased by cops who aren't used to putting their training to test. They didn't expect to be using their guns or heads in this situation. One of them decides to nab him single handedly, and it ends in a tragic mistake, but also a reminder that the man they're chasing was once a jungle rebel with primal instincts to boot. Nothing goes as planned, and as a viewer, it's unnerving to process. If there was ever an instance of a low-budget film turning its resources into a narrative strength, this almost-action sequence is it. It's messy, haunting and memorable, not least because Bajpayee reframes the body as an extension of a traumatized mind.

The Finale of Dasara

‘Ravana Dahanam’ sees a bloody wild reenactment, both literally and metaphorically, in the climax of Dasara when Dharani (Nani), the Ram, finally decides to take over Chinna Nambi (Shine Tom Chacko), the Raavan of his life, to protect his Vennala (Keerthy Suresh), his Sita. Set on the eve of Dushera amidst his village’s carnival, the sequence marks the outburst of Dharani’s rage that he has been trying to contain for months after the massacre that led to the brutal murder of his childhood friends, including his best friend Surya (Deekshit Shetty). Naturally, when Dharani gives it back, he lets his knives do the talking in a 12-minute-long combat scene in which countless men get stabbed in violent ways, creating a couple of the most striking images this year's Telugu cinema had to offer. The shot of a bloodied Dharani holding a knife, standing in front of the Raavan’s ablaze ten-headed model is a dream for an actor trying to break his ‘boy next door’ image. You might forget Dasara as a film, but some images from this finale will remain etched in your memory for a long time.

The Climax of Sapta Sagaradache Ello - Side B

Both parts of Hemanth Rao’s Sapta Sagaradache Ello end with a huge display of anger and violence, and a small moment of calm after. In Side A, the violence came in the form of Rakshit Shetty’s Manu expressing his loss of the love of his life Priya to marriage. However, in Side B, Manu goes and beats up the same antagonist outside prison. This time, it is the potential loss of his partner-in-crime Surbhi that motivates him to let loose incredible violence.

Set in an old single-screen theater that acts as an adda for Ramesh Indira’s Soma, Manu enters with rage and beats up henchman after henchman in a sequence that is artistic and terrifying at the same time. There is no stopping this man who has held a grudge for ten years. Filmed in long unbroken takes, the fight scene is a masterclass in staging, camerawork, and nuanced action choreography (by the brilliant Vikram Mor). The highlights are Rakshit Shetty holding a machete staged in a way that indicates a rite of passage that every Kannada star has gone through; the other is a long, unbroken take of punching and hammer-hitting that is filmed in a still frame that shows. You have to see it to believe why it is brilliant.

The Opening of Hostel Hudugru Bekagiddare

How does one even stage chaos like this? Nithin Krishnamurthy’s debut feature film was promoted as a cinema verite-infused campus comedy that took place in a boy’s hostel of an engineering college. However, it begins with a faux film that one of the characters is narrating to the rest of his friends. Their messy hostel is now called ‘Frankfurt University’, has acres of campus grounds, and has the best sports facilities. The only common factor: the Hitler-esque hostel warden.

The hilarious action sequence begins with the group of protagonists planting a DIY bomb outside the warden’s office, prompting him to suspend the entire hostel as they fail to come forward. Then begins a hilarious chase sequence that is stylistically similar to the fight scenes in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It has amazing editing, animation, VFX, and some of the best pop culture references (particularly Kannada cinema) ever. The rest of the film is pure chaos that seems impossible to be written. However, this prelude to it sets the tone perfectly and establishes every character in a fun and organic way.

The Nunchaku Climax in RDX

Nahas Hidayath took Malayalam cinema by surprise with his directorial debut RDX (2023), which saw him rehashing the greatest hits of the genre to great effect. The film dealt with three brothers who took it upon themselves to protect their families from a group of ruffians, hell bent on revenge. In a film populated with well constructed action set pieces, one moment that stood out was the climatic block where veteran action star Babu Anthony got to use his preferred instrument of choice; the nunchaku. The moment works as it banks on the sub textual understanding of the star's earlier on screen persona. The writing positions the yesteryear action star as a largely inert, passive bystander for the majority of the film's run time, oftentimes lending support to the younger leads tasked with the bloody action.

However, our basic understanding of his legacy and the genuinely inspired casting choice lets the viewer's imagination run wild throughout the movie, often waiting for the inevitable punch to land, but the screenplay does not reward that itching feeling and constantly tweaks and plays with our expectations. Then, towards the end, we get the ultimate cinematic release when Nahas and his screenwriters construct a moment of pure euphoria with a tiny set piece within the set piece moment, featuring a flying nunchaku that takes its sweet time to come down to the hands of the one man who has been dormant the entire runtime.

With inputs from Ram Venkat Srikar, Anushka Halve, J. Shruti, Prathyush Parasuraman, Arjun Menon and Nishanth A

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