In an interview, Aayush Sharma said that originally, he wasn't keen to have his brother-in-law, Salman Khan, as a co-star in his second film Antim: The Final Truth. Aayush was worried that Salman's inclusion could spark the nepotism debate and wondered whether he could match the hysteria surrounding the superstar. What Aayush should have been concerned about is how Salman's presence might torpedo a perfectly good story. Because Salman Khan no longer serves the narrative. The narrative has to serve Salman Khan.
Antim is a remake of the 2018 Marathi film Mulshi Pattern. Written and directed by Pravin Vitthal Tarde, Mulshi Pattern is a violent, affecting story of one family's displacement and loss. Pravin, aided by a stellar performance by lead actor Om Bhutkar, constructed an eloquent portrait of the downside of rapid urbanization, the plight of farmers who are forced to sell their lands for a pittance and move to the cities to survive, and the rise of crime. Mulshi Pattern had its overwrought moments – the film is framed as a chase, with the story of why this man is running for his life being told in flashbacks. But it seethes with rage and the tragedy hits hard.
Mahesh Manjrekar played a small role in that film. He reprises the same role in this one. But what he and co-screenplay and dialogue writers Abhijeet Deshpande and Siddarth Salvi do, is Bollywoodise the story and not in a good way. To begin with, a staggeringly loud BGM is added almost as though the makers don't trust the material to make an impact on its own. The tweaks they make in the story, like the addition of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, are wholly unnecessary. But the fatal flaw is that they keep interrupting the main narrative – the story of a young man named Rahul who comes from the village to the city and becomes a don – to shore up their star attraction.
Salman plays a cop named Rajveer who orchestrates ways to pit the various criminal factions in Pune against each other. Eventually the bad guys destroy themselves. Incidentally, if you want to see a far superior version of this, do catch the Kannada film Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. In Mulshi Pattern, the cop's role is played by Upendra Limaye. The character is pivotal but he doesn't overshadow the proceedings.
But Antim must pay homage to the altar of Salman. So the actor gets ample slow-motion treatment, fight scenes which establish his prowess and even the requisite shirtless sequence. Rajveer is a Sardar so there is one fight during which he uses his kada as a weapon. In another, he uses his padgi to cover a woman who has been raped. There are also lines like, 'Jis din ae sardar di hategi, sab di phategi.' Worst of all, unlike the original, here Rajveer indiscriminately murders bad guys, including a political leader. This made me wonder: Why did he bother with all this plotting to get criminals to kill criminals? He should have just done a Rambo act and finished them all.
Antim works as long as the film hews closely to Mulshi Pattern. Like Vijay in Deewar, Rahul discovers that ultimately crime doesn't pay. Just like Vijay's mother represents morality in that film, Rahul's family represents morality in this one. The scenes in which he attempts to woo them over with his money and power are moving. Mahesh also closely follows Pravin's template of overhead shots of the vast vegetable market where much of the action is located. But the power the film accumulates is dissipated by unnecessary detours like a romantic number between Rahul and tea-seller Manda, who he falls in love with. Or a conversation between Rajveer and Rahul, which takes place while Rahul is doing upper-body training. I kid you not – he's dropping punchy lines while he works on his chest muscles.
Pravin didn't bother establishing the physical prowess of his hero because he was more interested in exploring the ways in which a corrupt system, poverty and violence slowly push a man over the edge. In Mulshi Pattern, Rahul becomes an unhinged killer – the title refers to the way in which he hacks people to death.
Aayush doesn't have the acting chops to match Om but he works hard to present himself in a new light and eradicate any memory of his insipid launch three years ago with Loveyatri. The varying shades of bronzer and permanently raised eyebrows get in the way but he does decently.
I will say that this film is miles ahead of Salman's last few ventures like Radhe and Dabangg 3. But that's a pretty low bar.
You can watch Antim at a theatre near you. Don't forget to wear a mask