Director: Anil Sharma
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Utkarsh Sharma, Ishita Chauhan, Mithun Chakraborty, Ayesha Jhulka
You know how, as children, we get invited to that rich classmate’s swanky birthday party by his parents who are worried he has no friends? You know how we go reluctantly, knowing that they will make their enthusiastic kid show off his foreign toys and half-baked dancing talents on stage while they might be the only ones clapping? You know how the “party” goes on till midnight because this is possibly the biggest event of their social calendar? You know how they threaten to invite us to the same thing again next year?
Anil Sharma’s 165-minute-long Genius, starring his son Utkarsh Sharma, is the adult equivalent of this experience. This is not a film; it is an expensive display of affection by an indulgent father towards his son. On a human level, a man introducing his boy to the world “in and as Genius” is sweet, if a little immodest. It should ideally be none of our business. But in India, nothing is private; emotions aren’t real if others don’t notice it. That’s the problem with nepotism in cinema – it becomes our business, because we are expected to pay to be entertained by families celebrating their personal milestones and induction ceremonies.
It becomes our business when the show is so incompetent and so single-mindedly delusional that the only takeaways are its blatant xenophobia, and Mithun Chakraborty and Nawazuddin Siddiqui competing with one another to butcher the title (“Genie-yus,” “Jean-yas”) in unimaginable ways. It becomes our business when we are expected to tolerate and overlook the mandatory ‘paycheck’ films of actors like Siddiqui; he goes to great lengths in this one – including, wait for it, dancing in a club. Manto better be worth this humiliation.
To put in mildly, Genius has the IQ of Sunny Deol’s right bicep in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. How directors like Anil Sharma go from competing with Lagaan to this – I mean, how do you forget the basics of storytelling? – will forever remain a mystery.
To put it mildly, Genius has the IQ of Sunny Deol’s right bicep in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. How directors like Anil Sharma go from competing with Lagaan to this – I mean, how do you forget the basics of storytelling? – will forever remain a mystery. Genius revolves around an orphan named Vasudev Shastri who is brought up by the Pandits of Mathura. The pious Hindu hero greets everyone with a ‘Radhe Radhe,’ breezes into IIT Roorkee and is recruited by RAW to head their TOCSI wing (team of crime and special investigation – otherwise known as the ‘costume worn by the birthday boy’). Numbers jump out of the screen when he thinks, and tears stream down his cheeks with the heightened sounds of a slug being burnt alive.
A Porbandar mission goes wrong, his dream team is killed, and a crippled Shastri heads to Lakshadweep (otherwise known as Mauritius) to be rehabilitated by his girlfriend and brood to Himmesh Reshammiya’s ear-splitting music. We see flashbacks of his ‘carefree’ days at IIT, which looks like a Prem-Aggan version of Riverdale. We see the way he fell in love with a girl who calls him a “primitive small towner,” mocks his heritage and tries to drug him on the eve of the final exams so that she can top the college. He declares that if she can be so ruthless and ‘strong headed’ for her career, she will be even more committed in love. So far, so hood.
We also see why RAW wanted him – with a scene that has him stroll into the tech wing, foil a cyber attack on the servers by not “breaking the binary code” but rebooting the system and then asking for a glass of milk. But now RAW, headed by national security advisor Jayshankar Prasad (Chakraborty), a pious Hindu patriot, is after him. Prasad has this wordless assistant played by ex-Roadies participant Sonel Singh, whose sole job is to flank him and look tense. She existed for this purpose even in Jolly LLB alongside Boman Irani – a factoid that makes her Hindi cinema’s specialist secretary for all seasons.
Also after Shastri is a terrorist named MRS (Siddiqui), who dresses like an Italian gangster that stood last in his own look-alike contest – a man who mocks ‘deshbhakti,’ mocks launch vehicles and considers himself to be the 1-number genius in the country.
Also after Shastri is a terrorist named MRS (Siddiqui), who dresses like an Italian gangster that stood last in his own look-alike contest – a man who mocks ‘deshbhakti,’ mocks launch vehicles and considers himself to be the 1-number genius in the country. His religion is self-explanatory. He hates Prasad and Shastri and Vrindavan. And he is obviously in cahoots with Pakistan and the ISI head. “The heart should be made the national sport,” he says, before adding: “Because everyone plays with it.”
To give you an idea of what he is up against, there’s a long action sequence that has Shastri throwing away his crutches, leaping across Lakshwadeep streets, dodging buses and bikes, riding a cycle down multiple staircases and almost killing himself – all in pursuit of a minister’s car. You wonder if he has seen an old villain. He then smashes up the commandos to reach the car. With everyone’s eyes on him, and the minister shocked with this violence, he yells, “tiranga ulta hai, yaar”. The flag is upside down. He restores the flag on the windshield to its (far-right) position, while the town looks at him with pride.
Needless to mention, Genius ends with Hindu devotional anthems as the background score. It’s too late by the time we realize that our classmate’s lame party was in fact at a Brahmin temple in 2002. And that the orange robes weren’t part of a fancy-dress competition.