Director: Mahesh Manjrekar
Writers: Abhijeet Shirish Deshpande, Mithlesh Kaushik, Pravin Tarde
Cast: Salman Khan, Aayush Sharma, Mahima Makwana
Cinematographer: Karan Rawat
Editor: Bunty Nagi
In 1999, Salman Khan watched Sanjay Dutt walk away with the Best Actor trophy for Mahesh Manjrekar's Vaastav over his own performance as the 'third wheel' in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's all-conquering Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. It was fair. Only Dutt could have made that role look so personal. 22 long years later (though Khan looks nothing like Shah Rukh Khan's 22-years-later avatar in Veer-Zaara), the ageless superstar has returned to avenge 1999 in the only way possible. Manjrekar's endless Antim: The Final Truth might be a Bollywood remake of the Marathi-language Mulshi Pattern, but it's at heart a Vaastav & Sons enterprise. Imagine Vaastav – the exact grime-to-crime narrative, characters, rise, fall, even some of the cast – but with the entirely unnecessary addition of a supercop to tame and chastise Raghu. In essence, the revenge is complete: Salman Khan is now the third wheel in the Vaastav universe, the moral conscience – in the form of a Sikh inspector who speaks three lines of Punjabi – that nobody asks for.
Khan usually strides in and out of the frames of his own movies. Now he's striding in and out of the movie itself – as if to 'correct' a tragedy with his brand of one-man-army do-gooderness and imply that movies like Vaastav lack balance. Trust Khan to be the hero even when he's not the protagonist. Trust him to be the saviour when he's not even in the narrative. I've not watched the Marathi original, but I can bet my non-existent dog on the fact that the policeman was little more than a device – a role clearly inflated to accommodate the airbrushed abs and presenter aura of Salman Khan. Rajveer Singh plays Khan, a save-girl-save-kids cop who considers it his duty to shoot hooligans because the hand-combat scenes look too cumbersome to execute.
Which reminds me. The protagonist is brother-in-law Aayush Sharma, who's not bad at all when he isn't trying to ape those droopy Dutt eyes. (His resemblance to cricketer Krunal Pandya is entirely incidental, I think). In fact, even the movie isn't terrible when Khan is not busy invading and hijacking a perfectly Vaastav-lite party. The Mumbai criminal-of-circumstances core from the 1999 hit is simply force-fitted with current context – the second Hindi film this week after Satyameva Jayate 2 to tap into the "trending" farmer crisis – where Sharma plays Rahul, the angry son of a farmer (a brown-faced Sachin Khedekar) whose land is grabbed. Everything after the family's move to Pune plays out in an all-too-familiar manner, with Rahul (this won't go a long way in resurrecting my annoyingly filmy name) mistakenly killing someone, then being taken under the wings by a gangster in prison (Upendra Limaye), then being groomed and seduced and consumed by the excesses of crime. The only difference is that Rahul is cocky to begin with, thus sparing Sharma the nuances of a coward-to-king journey. He is already a 'gangsta' in his head when he starts to get noticed by the dons and politicians. Sharma has swag in those kolhapuri chappals, but he is reduced to a good-but-bad caricature by a film that's bursting at its seams to justify Khan's philanthropic stiffness.
There is barely enough bandwidth for one narrative, let alone the mentor who insists on sterilizing the narrative for his fanbase. The turban does look good on Khan, though, even if most of his one-liners start with: "Sardar hu main…