Director: Lakshya Raj Anand
Writers: Lakshya Raj Anand, Sumit Batheja, Vishal Kapoor
Cast: John Abraham, Jacqueline Fernandez, Rakul Preet Singh, Prakash Raj, Ratna Pathak Shah and Elham Ehsaas
Cinematographers: Will Humphris, P.S.Vinod, Soumik Mukherjee
Editor: Aarif Sheikh
There was a spring in my step after watching Attack. I felt more alive to the world around me. I could feel the adrenaline surging through my body. Before you get any blasphemous ideas, this wasn't because the movie was good – because it was certainly not. In fact, it was so far from good that all those memories of me hearing of the title and assuming this was a Virender Sehwag biopic vanished into thin air. My newfound energy was rooted in pure relief. I was just thrilled to walk out of the hall, into normal civilization, after surviving yet another patriotic-action movie. I was so happy that I even smiled at the first rickshaw driver who rejected me. After two hours of being attacked by the screen, I felt like a super soldier.
Which brings me to the premise of Attack, allegedly Hindi cinema's first super-soldier movie. It opens with Major Arjun Shergill (John Abraham) leading an extraction mission in 2011 – of a Lashkar terrorist boss – in what looks like Pakistan. (If we're confused about the religion or nationality of the baddies, they promptly start every sentence with "janaab"). The night-time sequence is clearly inspired by Zero Dark Thirty and Uri, where Indian commandos engage in chaotic combat in the thick of night inside a dark bungalow. Except here, the action is so incoherent and blinding, the editing so frantic, that I almost got motion sickness without having eaten a morsel of food for hours. Arjun then shows empathy towards a young Muslim boy – an act of secularity – which will naturally come back to haunt him in the future. Minutes later, present-day Arjun is seen "accidentally" kissing an air hostess, Ayesha (Jacqueline Fernandez), after he prevents her from tripping on stairs. When he yanks her falling body towards him, their lips do more than just meet. Their meet-cute continues during his flight, followed by a song that signifies a romantic relationship, until minutes later, a terrorist attack kills Ayesha and leaves Arjun paralyzed.
Attack then turns into a disability drama, where a wheelchair-laden Arjun can't even defend his old mother (Ratna Pathak Shah) from an ordinary burglary. The film then reaches its real motive, with the government deciding that Arjun is the perfect candidate to become the world's first Super Soldier. An attractive scientist named Saba (Rakul Preet Singh) dispels tech jargon about computer chips, bionic power, artificial intelligence and a life-threatening surgery. Once the medical formalities (featuring poor visual effects) are completed, modern-day robocop Arjun finally has an excuse to be not just freakishly powerful but also facially inert. Of all the ways to humanize a John Abraham performance, this is perhaps the most inventive yet. What follows is a mutant marriage of London Has Fallen (a parliament hostage situation, a one-man rescue mission) and Ek Tha Tiger (slick bike-and-airplane climax). There's also a bit of Inception thrown in – when Arjun's operating system (named Ira) shuts down, his brain goes into memory mode where he is unable to tell reality from dreams, risking a long-term coma if he doesn't exit. I assure you: this sounds better than it looks.
I like trashy action movies just as much as the next self-serious critic. But films like Attack are so fundamentally daft that I don't even have the mental bandwidth to criticize its bigoted politics. I can barely process the fact that the supporting cast boasts of fine actors like Rajit Kapur, Ratna Pathak Shah and Prakash Raj playing embarrassingly loud roles that they might not remember too fondly. The little in-jokes – where one character tells Arjun that the God-fearing Home Minister seems to be madly in love with the (white-bearded) Prime Minister – are cute till they last, or till Arjun pumps bullets into the next militant body. As Arjun rampages across the parliament with video-game-like precision, things like sarin bombs and missiles sneak into an already-ridiculous plot. The action is extensive but also too extensive, almost boring in its penchant to reduce every location to an explosive MMA ring.
A lot of people threaten a lot of people in this film, but the worst of those threats comes when "Part 2 is coming soon" flashes in the end credits. I also found myself wondering why alpha-male heroes of Hindi films don't lose their muscle when they get paralyzed. A lot of actors gamely buff their bodies up for roles, but none seem to go sickly lean – I'm not even saying Christian Bale lean, maybe Tom Hanks lean – for a role. I had all these thoughts while walking home with a big grin on my face. I hadn't escaped Attack; I had endured it with honour. The sixth rickshaw driver even smiled back at me – before rejecting me with dignity.