Director: Anil Sharma
Writer: Shaktimaan Talwar
Cast: Sunny Deol, Utkarsh Sharma, Ameesha Patel, Manish Wadhwa, Simrat Kaur
Duration: 170 mins
Available in: Theatres
It’s 1971, India and Pakistan are on the brink of war, and Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) still hasn’t tried anger management therapy. Inspired by his rage, the screen is yelling at us now – the director’s credit (Anil Sharma) and the title of the film (Gadar 2: The Katha Continues) is so emphatic that it threatens to uproot us like a stray hand-pump. The man seems to raise his voice even when he isn’t saying anything.
More than two decades since the events of Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), former rioter and truck driver Tara Singh is a freelance Indian soldier of sorts. Early on, a colonel instructs a crisis-stricken major with two words that amount to blasphemy in the Gadar universe: “Control yourself”. His troops are being slaughtered, which means only one thing: Tara Singh arrives in his truck and casually mows down an entire Pakistani battalion at the border. It’s just another day in office for the Sikh hero who sings with his Muslim wife Sakina (Ameesha Patel) in his spare time, and screams at his grown-up son Charanjeet (Utkarsh Sharma) for wanting to be an actor. “Study or you’ll become a mediocre truck driver like me,” he warns the boy. There’s a lot of killing in this film, but irony is one of the most gruesome victims.
Much of this 170-minute sequel plays out like an unwitting (I think) parody of the 2001 blockbuster. Everyone seems to be at a Bollywood cosplay party; the action scenes look like errant songs where people are shooting at each other instead of dancing; even the jingoism sounds like secularism having a bad-hair day. The acting makes it hard to tell maternal affection from oedipal tension (Haider (2014) is not pleased), and toxic masculinity from fatherly love (Udaan (2010) will not be pleased). The CGI throws in a few happy doves in a backdrop that resembles Paris when two young lovers in Lahore say sweet nothings like “touch me and tell me you’re a spy”. The foreplay (pre-violence) lasts for an eternity, where macho men simply have shouting matches instead of finishing each other off with a bullet.
The villain is a chap named Hamid Iqbal (Manish Wadhwa), a cigar-chomping general in the Pakistani army who is introduced in a scene where he beheads an Indian prisoner of war for choosing the Bhagavad Gita over the Quran. The blood splatters onto his face from a completely different angle, but catching such a flaw is like accusing a tiger of veganism for hiding in the bushes. Iqbal has old beef with Tara Singh, who had killed his troops during his violent love story all those years ago. So the baddie does what any self-respecting baddie would: He fails, again and again, till the film finally gets sick of him.
Iqbal also assassinates Sakina’s family to provoke India, but all Sakina does is sit by the radio waiting for live commentary of her two men playing Hulk-Smash far away. Grieving is not her thing. At one point, when it’s hinted that her husband may have died, Sakina hallucinates and rushes into his arms several times. You know how it goes: When she hugs him, the shot cuts to reveal her hugging the air. But when he lifts her up, the shot refuses to show her gravitating like a glitchy ghost. Of course, it’s tough to tell her delusions from when Tara actually returns, or even her tears from her joy.
The weird thing about Gadar 2 is that Sunny Deol is absent for much of the first half. Instead, we are subjected to the life of Charanjeet as he smuggles himself into Pakistan to look for a missing Tara, who he assumes has been captured and jailed by evil Iqbal. A visual transition goes from a round visa stamp on his passport to a fried bhatura, which is as ambitious as the film-making gets in a movie that later amplifies the three-way sexual tension between Tara Singh, an angry Pakistani mob and the iconic hand-pump.
Charanjeet is neither a cool actor nor a competent spy – he not only writes detailed letters back to his weepy mother but also seduces a local Bollywood-crazy girl (whose father is subtly named Qurbaan) by cooking biryani for her to infiltrate the camp. Two romantic songs later, the story gives up and turns the tables on him, so that Tara Singh can emerge from the wilderness (with all the timing of Juliet waking up after Romeo poisons himself in solidarity) and tell Iqbal what a loser he is. The yelling proceeds, and a bunch of tanks explode in a climax involving both armies and Tara beheading a soldier with an iron hammer.
There’s no point getting into the details of how repetitive and insensitive the third hour of the film is. But when a bitter Iqbal reminds Tara that it goes both ways – that his family was killed during the Partition, too – Tara’s reaction sounds like something an online troll would say when confronted with logic. Fortunately, by now, the ears are too sore for the mind to get offended. And the eyes are too weary for the violence to make sense. The Katha continues, in more ways than one.