Directed by: Dnyanesh Zoting
Written by: Nikhil Nair
Cinematography: Jitan Harmeet Singh
Edited by: Anurodh and Praful Sawant
Starring: Jimmy Sheirgill, Rajshri Deshpande, Asha Negi
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Collar Bomb is the kind of shabby, gimmicky and naively plotted action drama that might force messrs Joel Schumacher and Tony Scott to rise from the grave in a last-ditch attempt to repair the reputation of fast-paced pulp. The premise is ridiculous, which is still fine. But it's also incoherent, awkwardly performed and aspires to cheap film-school thrills. The eternal Jimmy Sheirgill stars as a supercop in Sanawar called Manoj Kumar Hesi (which, when scribbled in a diary, looks like an actor's scriptnote that prompts for "Manoj Kumar's laughter"), whose chief-guest appearance at a school function is interrupted by a young terrorist who takes the auditorium hostage. For some reason, Hesi – he of that Shergill-esque swag – is being felicitated by the principal for cracking a case in what is also a memorial meeting for the victim of this incident, an ex-student named Neha. I mean, read the room guys. Some situations just deserve to be gatecrashed by a gun-toting, suicide-bomb-wearing, kohl-eyed kid reading instructions from a diary.
Naturally, this becomes a cat-and-mouse race against time, with the terrorist forcing the cop to run around town and commit certain crimes in order to disarm the codes of the bomb. Hesi obliges, determined to nab the terrorist's handler, who seems to be a mysterious woman whose voice cackles with disdain. She blackmails Hesi with a video from his past that threatens to expose him as a fraud. The attack is personal. Along the way, his allies include a catholic mother who exists to exclaim "Jesus! What have you done?", a local female cop whose job it is to suspect everyone and everything, a bunch of wailing kids who seem to be crying because they know they're in a bad film, and a haunted ex-colleague who knows the bitter truth. The almighty twist in the end – where the perpetrator is revealed – is defeated by the unsubtle casting (it's obvious that a known actor isn't in this for a blink-and-miss cameo), a predictable revenge backstory and a social message that deserves a better platform.
The idea isn't bad. When you consider that the other Hindi release this week, State of Siege: Temple Attack, perpetuates Islamophobic stereotypes through a real-life hostage saga, the fictional resolution of Collar Bomb is designed to be the very indictment of this deep-rooted religious bias in mainstream storytelling. It tries to hold up a mirror to Indian society as well as art. But the clumsy execution exposes the storytelling void between intent and empathy. It's the kind of performative twist that turns a perfectly sane character into a deranged zombie – because the camera is finally on her.
At one point, a mob attacks a Muslim shop in the middle of town, and when a policewoman intervenes, she is told: "What khakhi cannot do, khadi will". That's alright, it plays well for effect, but there's also something bullet-pointy about the words. Ditto for Hesi's voiceover, the villain's painstaking explanation of why she is actually a monster of a system's making, and a final montage that looks like it's 95 of the film's 88 minutes in the making. All of which raises the age-old question: Smart commentary crafted poorly or questionable commentary crafted well? Somewhere in between lies the perfect film and a unicorn that burps scented rainbows.