When Bholaa was nearing its theatrical release, I saw some posts and articles online claiming Kaithi to be something of a masterpiece. Lokesh Kanagaraj's film was described as a "cinematic achievement," something akin to a Holy Grail that shouldn't be tampered with. It's clear that Kanagaraj has developed his own fan following. I love his masala sensibilities, but his Kaithi was no "masterpiece." Sure, it had a few superbly edited sequences. However, it was overall very generic. When I initially saw Bholaa's teaser on the big screen, one thing became crystal clear to me: This was not going to be a carbon copy. And Ajay Devgn's production, indeed, is not a lame copy-and-paste remake lacking integrity.
What Devgn has done is that he has kept the basic outline intact. After years of imprisonment, a man is released and sets out to meet his daughter in an orphanage. Along the way, he is arrested by a police officer and soon finds himself in a conflict with numerous bad guys. Furthermore, a group of people try to prevent a police station from collapsing. Most of the movie takes place during the night because when the sun goes down, monsters rise from their sleep.
When we first meet Bholaa (Ajay Devgn), he is seen reading the Bhagavad Gita. A character tells him to not start the Mahabharata outside. At one point in the film, Bholaa carries a trident as if his third eye has opened. In a true masala movie fashion, the story is packed with mythological touches. Bholaa, during his journey, comes across goons who resemble demons (Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai sounds like a lullaby for the dead). Some wear freakish red masks and take leaps with their bikes. Some have long hair and oily skin. While some have half-burned skin. It's only natural, then, that Bholaa tackles these rakshasas with godlike abilities. He, too, defies all the laws of gravity by jumping from a truck and sitting on a bike, which spins and crashes with another motorcycle. Devgn has gone all gonzo with the film. He revels in insanity, and there is so much joy in watching him go crazy.
Devgn's films always have an appetite for hero worshiping. Be it Shivaay or Runway 34, you will find scenes in which Devgn's character is beheld with pride. In these movies, those moments left a bitter aftertaste because they felt like the actor-director was looking at himself in the mirror and saying, "Wow, you are a genius!" But you don't feel like this while watching Bholaa. Either Devgn has improved at hero worshiping, or his vigorous adherence to the masala beats doesn't imbue his scenes with traces of unbearable pomposity (he prioritizes his character over himself).
But it's not only Devgn who is doing all the heavy lifting. He allows other characters to come into the spotlight. SP Diana (Tabu) gets a whistle-worthy hero-entry scene (my heart skipped a beat when red sand enveloped her body). It's so lovely that the character of Narain is replaced with a female. Diana brings blood as well as warmth into the film. I can think of no other actor who could replace Tabu. For her, every part is perfect. Once you see her in a role, you fail to imagine anyone else in her shoes.
Bholaa and Kaithi are infected by the same issues. The main one among them is the release of tension and puncturing of momentum whenever we cut to the orphanage. But these films are solidly constructed, and they easily pick up their rhythm quickly without any problem. Bholaa is that rare remake that is as good and flawed as the original. It's a carbon copy in that sense.