Mohit Suri‘s Malang may be one of those films that’s made for OTT. One, its flavour is — in itself — quite OTT: it’s the kind of movie in which the sky explodes with fireworks when the hero meets the heroine. It’s also a ticking-clock thriller, which means we get indications of time: precise time. It’s not just the “evening” of December 24, but 5.10.02 pm. Such sloppiness! Where are the milliseconds and the nanoseconds, I ask you! Best of all are the lines. It’s going to be a long night, chasing a killer. Or as Crime Branch Inspector Anjaney Agashe (Anil Kapoor) puts it: “Aaj ka andhera bahut gehra hone wala hai.” Melt that line down and you could top an entire pizza with it.
The film opens, somewhat puzzlingly, on a “mass” note. It’s a fight in prison, and it begins with Advait (Aditya Roy Kapur) doing pull-ups. It’s essentially an ad for the leading man’s latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major. My, my, how far along product placements have come! Earlier, it used to be a jar of Bournvita on the breakfast table, with the label facing the camera. Now, the scene says: Call Aditya Roy Kapur and get the number of his trainer. The action begins and here’s where it gets puzzling. We follow the one-versus-many fight scene with the camera trailing Advait. In other words, we are being set up for a face reveal, a hero-intro shot.
Those of you well-versed with this kind of OTT mode would be right to wonder: “Aditya Roy Kapur is getting a hero-intro shot?” But such are the times. The stars who commanded the screen with brute presence are either ageing or retired. We need fresh blood. And, apparently, skin. Ever since Salman Khan, in Dabangg, demonstrated that an action scene isn’t really an action scene unless the shirt comes off, the silver screen has never been the same. Aditya Roy Kapur is just following the template. He follows the template so religiously that his shirt comes off even when there is no action, like a reflex. It’s a whole new approach to acting. It would have been even better if some of the flexibility we find in the rectus abdominis had found its way to the face.
But then, you could say the same about the heroine. Disha Patani plays Sara. She’s supposed to be a hippie, who decided she did not want to be part of the rat race she found her parents in. She’s gone off the grid. I mean, really. She doesn’t even have a phone. Now, that’s commitment to a cause. You are in Goa and you have a body like that and you’re saying you’re not even going to Instagram yourself off and induce self-loathing in the rest of the world about their love handles.
If I appear a little peeved about Advait and Sara, it’s because I wanted to do more than just think: You belong on a Kingfisher calendar. I wanted to feel their togetherness. I wanted them to be a couple I cared about, like in Ghajini. For a while Malang looks like one of those stories where the girl dies and the guy takes revenge by killing a number of men — at 7.42.06 pm, 8.09.08 pm, and so on. And we are meant to wonder what these men did, especially when all of them are on the right side of the law: they are all cops.
But for almost the entire first half, in between the killings, we watch the flowering of the blandest of romances. Both Sara and Advait have backstories about their families, but these are brushed off so casually that the characters come across like spoiled children who ran away because daddy said “No puppy for you!” The shared pain could have been the thing that brought them together, but I suppose that would have made this too serious a movie. What do we get instead? Sara and Advait indulging in a bunch of adventure sports. Hey, you like parasailing, too? Wow, you’re The One! (Thank you God!) Now let’s jump off a cliff and lip-lock after landing in the sea!
Their big emotional moment comes when Sara says her happy place is being at home during Christmas, doing up the tree and so forth. So Advait breaks into someone’s home, decorates the living room with lights and transforms a stepladder into a Christmas tree. The look of wonderment on Sara’s face suggests this is even better than a bungee jump at 10.09.34 am. They end up making love under the “tree”, without a care that, at that very moment, Santa might be squeezing himself down the chimney. Poor old man. He thinks it’s X-mas. He ends up with an X-rating!
But around interval point, Malang becomes the movie it should have always been. And that brings me to the other reason this film is made for OTT. At home, the Sara-Advait nonsense is easier to brush aside, the second-half twists become just the thing you wanted on a lazy evening. You keep thinking of the Ghajini model and say, “This is where she’s going to die!” But the screenplay, which has suddenly sprouted a brain, keeps subverting your expectations. Even the cliché where the bad guy explains his motives is nicely handled, because it isn’t just a dull .ppt to the audience that fills in the gaps. The revelation is used to inflame Advait and push him into a corner. And the final twist, which occurs roughly at the 1.51.15 mark, is even better. I never saw it coming.
Like many mid-size star vehicles these days, it’s the supporting characters who make it worthwhile. Anil Kapoor, of course, is always watchable. His character has a dark past that — with better writing — could have tied in more meaningfully with Sara-Advait’s parental issues. And Kunal Khemu is terrific as a Special Cell officer who’s battling a failing marriage. Had Sara and Advait been detailed with the same level of care, Malang would have been pulp heaven. (And it isn’t easy to make good pulp, walking that tricky tightrope between serious and silly.) But because it was on OTT, I was able to forgive the failings, especially while winding down at 9.34.12 pm.