Ganapath Review: Can Tiger Shroff’s Abs Distract You From The Ugliest Film Of Our Times?
Writer, Director: Vikas Bahl
Duration: 136 mins
Available in: Theatres
Ganapath is another feeble feather on the cartwheeling cap of Tiger Shroff’s filmography — a tapestry of acrobatics reverse engineered from his puzzle-pieced abs, his martial arts training, his apan-tapan playfulness, and an impossibly dull and misguided conviction that action is enough.
In a dystopian future, 2060 AD, the rich have accumulated their wealth into the spiky, shapely, ugly metallic skyscrapers of Silver City, leaving all the poor to languish behind an impregnable wall. It is strange to watch this film, which insists that these walls did not exist in the past (i.e. our present) when we are living through a moment where a population is trying to rupture their way out of such very walls in Palestine and the poor in Delhi were segregated behind barriers and murals during the G20 summit. But why hope that films like Ganapath aim for something more profound and grounded when they wear their frivolous, easy politics on their sleeves. Ganapath: Part 1 aspired for class war, clean and simple — rich: Bad; poor: Good.
Abs Fab, But There’s Not Much Else
The hungry and wretched infight because of forced impoverishment. To channel this angst, Thalapathy (Amitabh Bachchan) comes up with the idea of opening a boxing ring where they can express their frustration — by ‘they’ the film means men, for why must women be angered by poverty? But the rich come to know about this anger therapy and one evil, blue-eyed John The Englishman decides to recruit men from here, to fight in the boxing ring in Silver City. Described as a “modern day Roman Colosseum”, this boxing ring is a front for his gambling successes. His right hand man and wrestling curator is Guddu (Tiger Shroff) — womanizer, ab-aficionado, and unbeknownst to him, the impending savior of the poor, and death knell to the exploitative dystopia. He is Ganapath. He just doesn’t know it yet. Like most dull heroes, his is a destiny that has been chosen for him; he merely has to grasp at it.
The journey from Guddu to Ganapath is facilitated by Shiva and Jassi (Kriti Sanon), who live beyond the poor ghetto, in a sanded, isolated mountain-top. (This part of the film is shot in Ladakh, the second film that was released this month to be shot there, after Dhak Dhak; the second film that is unable to make anything of its sublime, rugged beauty). Jassi’s weapon of choice is nunchucks. Her expression of choice is stoicness. Her clothing of choice is navel gazing. Ganapath cuts through this stoicness though, in the span of one tame song. Love blooms. So does Ganapath’s endurance, his wrestling skills hardened and sharpened.
Jassi, introduced as strong willed and strong armed with Ganapath hanging onto her, sitting pillion on her bike, waters away into a weepy footnote. Such is the limited conception of the hardened woman. She isn’t rock; she’s ice.
Enter the Chasm
Ganapath is trying constantly to be sleek, camp, to produce futurism and dystopia, to produce both romance and action, to infuse masala in muscle, and raunch in romance. But it is trying so hard and so tirelessly, unable to produce a single moment of rapture, of excess. Then, what you are aware of, constantly, is that gap, the chasm between what is being attempted and ultimately, what is being seen. Ganapath is that chasm.
Writer director Vikas Bahl’s filmography is defined by that chasm, the way he was unable to lift Shaandaar (2015) into the campy shriek, Super 30 (2019) into a masala pourri, and the web series Sunflower into a deadpan upper. Here, however, it is not just the chasm that is apparent, it is also his wilful abdication of cinema.
For one, Ganapath is in the running for one of the ugliest films of our time. Sand doesn’t look like sand, wire mesh doesn’t look like wire mesh, cities don’t look like cities, houses don’t look like houses, crowds don’t look like crowds, bike rides don’t look like bike rides; the soorma under Ganapath’s eyes has a mind of its own, his wardrobe taking kitsch to the most revolting extreme. In a song, Ganapath is dancing, lip syncing to the voice of a woman. Later in the song, he is lip syncing to nothing. In the climactic speech with Ganapath, standing in a boxing ring, foregrounded against a crowd, the background keeps glitching, changing dimensions and positions even as Ganapath remains in his spot. This film feels like it was breathed into life through a reckless green-screen.
A Crumbling, Pixelated World
There is something exciting, however, at the heart of the film — a multicultural potluck, where a Marathi “ala”, a Punjabi tattoo, an Englishman, render the culture rudderless in the face of a “Mad Max duniya”. But this seed of an idea requires both a technical and artistic finesse to come together. Ganapath besides being a visual aberration is also a narrative nail-on-the-chalkboard — screeching, loud, and after a point, unbearable. Fights pile on fights which have neither narrative direction nor emotional texture, the gazes and stares become increasingly empty, and the pixelated world crumbles, scene by scene.
There is something to be said for Shroff’s acrobatics and how effortless he makes it look, where a triple flip in the air looks like three swirls of a wrist. But now, violence doesn’t look like violence anymore. It doesn’t have that same exertion, the same revulsion, for we have been desensitized to its blood by how easy it all looks. There is a lubricated dexterity with which Shroff moves through space, curling its gravity to his whim, but this makes each sequence of violence, each prolonged scene of limbs whacking, merely an ode to Shroff’s agility. The character, the story, the world all melt away, as though approaching a mirage of a movie, only to be given the barennes of action. With each new scene, the film increasingly stops feeling like a film, but an extended vanity cut of Shroff’s training. It is when, in a rare moment, when Ganapath makes tea for Shiva while evading his punches, bending over his attacks, that we can see what action can do when it attempts to tell a story. For being able to do action isn’t enough. You must earn it, too.