This year I understood that watching mediocre films is more soul sucking than watching truly terrible ones because you catch glimpses of what might have been. The train-wrecks have a purity that almost make them easier to endure. Here are my top 5 from 2021.
One of the fall-outs of the rise of streaming has been that even substandard films have found a home. One such is The Interview: Night of 26/11. There are reports of the same film being launched in 2012 with the title Cover Story. But what's in a name. This movie would be just as awful. The idea isn't half bad – on the night of 26/11, as horrific violence is unleashed in Mumbai, a celebrated war correspondent is attempting to interview a famous Bollywood star. But the execution is that of a kindergarten school play. The film, which is a remake of a Dutch film called The Interview, is perhaps the worst of Jackie Shroff's career. Through the film, his character Rohan address the actor Tara as Miss Silicon. In one scene he tells her: agar main aatankwadiyon ko sambhal sakta hoon toh aap kya cheez hai. After all, I'm a war correspondent. Need I say more?
In this one, Jackie Shroff spends most of his screen time, disguised as a gorilla. He plays Mr. Makwana, a Nirav Modi-style billionaire, who is trying to flee from India after orchestrating a 4000-crore scam. Mostly, the actor is in a gorilla suit, grunting or rolling his eyes. Aadar Jain plays Charlie, an earnest young man who is hired to take Makwana, in disguise, in his truck to Diu from where he will leave for Dubai by boat. One character refers to Makwana, as 'bandaron ka Hrithik Roshan.' This film was so terrible that I could feel myself getting stupider through it.
Radhe is a sequel to the 2009 blockbuster Wanted. Once again, Prabhudeva delivers a loud, numbing pointless paean to the cult of Salman Khan, who once again plays superhero and saviour. The film props up his persona through scenes, dialogue, slow-motion shots. There are close ups of his trademark blue bracelet, a scene in front of Galaxy apartments, his actual home in Mumbai, the requisite shirtless scene and him, breaking the fourth wall to wish his audience Eid Mubarak. The one bright spark is Randeep Hooda, in leather jackets and pony tail, playing the villain Rana who mostly struts around and butchers people with an axe. Jackie Shroff is in this film also, playing Radhe's boss and his girlfriend's brother. In one scene, he's close dancing with Radhe wearing a strappy silk dress. I'm not making this up. The saving grace is that at one hour and 49 minutes, this is among Salman's shortest films.
This is a film so hellbent on desh bhakti that even the disclaimer is patriotic – it ends with the line, we salute the Indian Armed Forces and, in even bigger font, Jai Hind! The film is set during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and is based on the rousing true story of how IAF Squadron leader Vijay Karnik, who was in-charge of the Bhuj airport, reconstructed the runway which had been destroyed by Pakistani airstrikes, with the help of 300 women from the local village. Director Abhishek Dudhaiya turns this incredible tale into a high-pitched, shoddily executed saga in which characters have the depth of stick figures and repeatedly proclaim their love for the motherland. The Pakistanis are of course evil buffoons. They say janab in every other sentence and their fighting skills are so poor that in the climax, Sanjay Dutt playing a villager named Pagi, decimates half the Pakistani army with an axe. No one has the good sense to shoot him. Bhuj is mostly a series of disjointed vignettes about men either killing or thumping their chests and proudly declaring their love for Bharat Ma. All these actors deserve better.
This was less a film and more an expensive showreel for John Abraham's body. He plays three characters – a father and his twin sons. All three have granite muscles and abs that seem sculpted from stone. There are scenes in which John takes his shirt off and the camera swirls around his impressive torso. There are close-ups of his biceps. The physique and personality of all three John characters is interchangeable. Writer-director Milap Milan Zaveri gives us a tour of the assorted problems that plague India – corruption, atrocities against women and children, evil politicians and cops. But one of the Johns is always around to fix it by inflicting damage with his fists. This film works as a tutorial on how not to make a movie. My favourite was the climax in which all three Johns hold down a helicopter with their bare hands to prevent the bad guy from escaping. That image said it all.