Kill Review: DDLJ, But Make it Gory, Gruesome and Awesome

Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s film is a slick antidote to the conventional Bollywood movie
Kill Review: DDLJ, But Make it Gory, Gruesome and Awesome
Kill Review: DDLJ, But Make it Gory, Gruesome and Awesome

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Writer: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
Cast: Lakshya, Raghav Juyal, Tanya Maniktala, Abhishek Chauhan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya

Duration: 105 mins

Available in: Theatres

Purely as an action thriller, Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Kill is slick, savage and supremely satisfying to watch. It ticks all the boxes: Creative choreography, relentless rhythm, unforgiving gore, the tactful use of space, the raw physicality of the performers, a real-world rage. Its bloodlust isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the violence doubles up as a cautionary tale. The baddies have no remorse. But the hero only becomes a remorseless killing machine in the throes of grief – it’s the classic nothing-to-lose arc that thrives on the futility of revenge. The film is almost feral in its pursuit of motion, a style that syncs with its milieu of a moving train. 

The writing is surprisingly lithe, more a product of Southeast Asian genre cinema than inflated Hindi spectacles. The protagonist is an NSG commando, Amrit (Lakshya), who finds himself in a hostage situation. But there’s no ‘hero introduction’ scene, as is usually the norm, where stories often open with a random mission to establish his courage and daredevilry. Instead we see him returning from a mission with a colleague, like it’s just another job. After that, it’s straight down to business. The use of network jammers erases the possibility of external interference and big-picture tangents. There are no needless romantic interludes and flashbacks (except one) to sell Amrit’s love story. The woman he wants to marry is on the same train; a summation of their past is not necessary. Cutting out the flab is crucial to the film’s identity; there is no point in building a world that’s familiar to viewers. Everything already exists, so it’s literally like boarding a moving train. 

A still from Kill
A still from Kill

Cut the Flab

The backstory and motive of the attackers? Doesn’t matter. The tension between the young woman (Tanya Maniktala) and her patriarchal family? Implied. The fearsome aura of her father (Harsh Chhaya)? Irrelevant. (His power is spoken of, but the man remains a desperate passenger on the train.) Police presence? Minimal, but not cliched (they are partly competent). The brotherhood between the two commandos? Understood. There are no gimmicky plot twists; it’s simply one brutal combat sequence after another. There’s no exposition, and barely any context to the attack. In fact, it’s an extended family of dacoits, many of whom provide some black humour for how shoddy and unlucky their own plan is. Every time one of them is slaughtered, it’s hard not to be amused by their decision to invade the one train that has two supersoldiers. In short, all the tropes ripe for narrative padding are resisted. There’s no time to state the obvious. As a result, the film frees itself to commit to the primary elements of the genre: Bodies are broken, flesh is torn, brains are spilled, and the emotional urgency of the situation is registered through its graphic nature.  

But this isn’t a mindless action movie. Given the role of Indian trains in the history of post-partition violence, the high stakes of Kill – a thriller disguised as an overnight journey between Jharkhand and New Delhi – are culturally embedded in its form. It’s a bit like Hollywood airplane dramas in post-9/11 America. You find yourself unnerved by the very idea of trapped civilians. You root for not just fictional themes like survival and justice, but also the reclamation of the humble train as a vessel of hope and adventure. Kill is also a rare film about a soldier that subverts the notion of new-age patriotism. The dacoits signify the cracks of an imperfect nation that movies often glorify by pitting them against India-hating enemies. But Amrit is too busy rescuing Indians from fellow Indians; there’s no scope for external invasions if the real demons lie within

One of the better scenes features two older women coming to Amrit’s aid after apologizing for being mere bystanders – a version of ordinary citizens rebelling when pushed to the brink. But even without the subtext, it’s worth noting that Amrit’s profession is incidental to the story. He just happens to be a commando because it’s the easiest way to justify his skillset and one-man-army rampage. At no point does the film pretend that he’s doing it for a bigger cause. He operates from one moment to another, his training and conditioning at odds with his dormant humanity. In a way, his duty as a trooper – protecting strangers and countrymen from themselves – is slowly defeated by his primal instincts. In a conventional actioner, this might have been a supervillain origin story. 

A still from Kill
A still from Kill

Connecting the Dots

For all its non-Bollywood traits, however, Kill is inextricably linked to our relationship with mainstream Hindi cinema. The love story, in particular, unfolds like a blood-soaked descendent of some iconic titles. Minutes into the film, Amrit crashes the engagement of his girlfriend, Tulika, with a vague plan to elope. He’s high on adrenaline; his friend waits outside, ready to drive them away. But Tulika is reluctant, hinting that her father is influential and dangerous enough to hunt them down. At this point, the film reaches the intersection of two familiar paths. The first is that of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), where Kill becomes an action-packed tragedy about a couple on the run; the hero is primed to fend off her evil dad’s henchmen – but on a speeding train. It’s an entertaining option. 

But Kill chooses the second route. The hero refuses to elope, instead striving to derail her engagement and charm her strict father, a man named Thakur Baldev Singh. The train could’ve been the mustard fields of Punjab, for all you know. Basically, Kill becomes the answer to the question: What if Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) were a twisted action thriller? There are multiple shots of the father observing Amrit, too, almost as if the younger man were winning him over with his fists rather than family-friendly gestures. It doesn’t stop there. The unhinged antagonist (an over-the-top Raghav Juyal) – who behaves like someone who has derived his mannerisms from cinema itself – even unleashes a reference to Mohabbatein (2000), another movie whose shadow looms over the second half of Kill. In other words, the dacoits prevent the film from reaching more popular and gentler destinations. They disrupt the commercial Bollywood canon and push the story into uncharted waters. It’s almost like they force the movie to be titled Kill and not Kiss. At some level, Amrit is punishing them for doing so. 

It helps that newcomer Lakshya initially speaks and looks like a typical Dharma-YRF hero – until all hell breaks loose. Once the carnage begins, Kill dares to go where few Hindi films have gone before. It’s not pretty because, for once, it isn’t supposed to be. And perhaps that’s the enduring point of the film – and, by extension, the cinephilia-fuelled genre it embraces. There’s a numbness to the aftermath of a solid action saga; it’s the sort of ringing sound that censures the audience for enjoying what they just saw. After all, violence is temporary but the void it leaves is permanent. Massacres come and go, but it’s the scars – and the bone-crunching stories – that remain.

Related Stories

No stories found.