Director: Mahesh Bhatt
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy KapUr, Sanjay Dutt, Jisshu Sengupta, Makarand Deshpande, Priyanka Bose
Writers: Mahesh Bhatt, Suhrita Sengupta
Cinematographers: Jay I. Patel
Editor: Sandeep Kurup
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
An hour into Sadak 2, Aditya Roy Kapur’s character reveals he was once a substance addict, and all feels right with the world again. I’ll admit I was starting to get a little worried. Other comforting throwbacks to the harmless desolation of a pre-Covid universe emerge. Mohan Kapoor in his 86th role as a priest/psychiatrist (a Godman disciple is just a variation). Gulshan Grover as a physically disfigured gangster (Dilip ‘hathkataa’). A Sanjay Dutt character mourning and mowing. A brooding KK/Arijit ballad making characters act sad even if they’re not. And last but never least, Makarand Deshpande as a villain whose superpower is incoherent performance art. It’s weirdly reassuring. Everything has changed, but mediocrity is the resistance.
Everyone’s a bit cuckoo in Sadak 2. Ravi Kishore (Dutt), the taxi driver from Sadak, crosses paths with Aarya Desai (Alia Bhatt) in a psychiatric ward. He’s suicidal because he’s just lost his wife: flashbacks of Sadak’s Pooja Bhatt appear and it’s still impossible to tell the past from the present because of this film’s crass 90s aesthetic. Aarya is unhinged because…I’m not sure why. I suspect it’s because Alia Bhatt excels at weepy meltdowns on screen. Ravi speaks to the air and hears Pooja’s voice from the clouds, and it’s a far cry from Morgan Freeman’s godly baritone. In a final ode to their travel agency, he agrees to transport Aarya to some faraway place and learns that she’s escaped from the asylum to expose the Godman (Deshpande) responsible for brainwashing her father (Jisshu Sengupta) and killing her mother. Priyanka Bose plays the evil stepmother that can be best described as Nothing Like Ma Anand Sheela. Ravi also learns that Aarya is an activist who runs an online movement called “India Fights Fake Gurus” with 1.96 lakh followers, which is also where she met her boyfriend Vishal (Kapur), and before Ravi knows it he’s playing paternal chauffeur to the loved-up couple on a random road trip.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that insanity – scored to the soundtrack of grief – is a Vishesh Films production’s favourite artistic license. The madness of the characters is designed to mask the badness of the film. It also gives the plot an excuse to behave like a rat on acid without any rational explanation. (I believe the legitimate term these days is “cray cray”). So at one point, an owl called Kumbhkaran saves the young couple from being burnt alive by a one-handed goon. (It’s admittedly funny when Dutt breaks into Munnabhai mode and asks Grover: eh, tu saara kaam ek haath se karta hai?). At another point, the Godman appears in drag for no reason other than to pay pointless ode to Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s transgendered villain of the first film. The craft is bonkers too: One of the most wasteful single-take sequences in all of cinema features a murder behind closed doors before shadowing the killer’s ominous walk to a sofa. Whenever a gun is pulled on Ravi, he starts singing. The film ends with a mountain speaking to humans. A mountain. Speaking.
The irony about atrocious films is that talent sticks out like a sore thumb. Alia throwing the kitchen sink at emotional scenes makes for a strange sort of cognitive dissonance – it’s like everyone else except her got the memo. After a while, her sincerity starts to look satirical, with echoes of her ‘Genius of the Year’ performance. On the brighter side, her first words in the film (“Hi Mommy!”) are evidence that she’d make a great Villanelle. It’s just about finding the sweet spot that connects a sadak 2 her Highway. I apologize. That pun sounded better in my head, but the head deserves better than an owl blinded by daylight attacking a baddie blinded by faith. Sadak Tree might be a humdinger.