Director: Kanishk Varma
Writer: Ashish Verma
Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Rukmini Maitra, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Neha Dhupia
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
I kept reading reports that Sanak is a remake of John Q, an old Denzel Washington actioner about a broke father who holds an entire hospital hostage to force a life-saving surgery of his son. Apparently not. Sticking to the original premise might have been too exacting on Vidyut Jammwal, a persistent action star whose facial muscles aren’t quite as adventurous as the rest of him. So Sanak is instead about a charming husband named Vivaan who sells his house (being broke comes with its privileges, Denzel) to fund the life-saving surgery of his wife, before single-handedly battling a bunch of Die-Hard-ish baddies who’ve taken the hospital hostage. He’s a softy, an MMA trainer, a lover, a hero. Lest the influence isn’t clear, one of the two annoying kids in the film even says “I’m a big Bhai (Salman Khan) fan, and Bhai doesn’t cooperate with villains”.
Sanak is not the worst Bollywood action film in recent memory. It’s merely basic, silly and forgettable. So much is focused on Vivaan’s action set pieces – in an MRI room (cue magnetic stunts), a burning prenatal ward, a strategically designed storeroom and an elevator shaft – that the storytelling is less than incidental. Some of it is just downright strange. The film opens with Anshika (Rukmini Maitra), the wife, being throttled on a beach at midnight before it’s revealed that Vivaan is actually teaching her the art of self-defence on the eve of their third marriage anniversary. (What?). Maybe it’s a new BDSM trend, but why ruin it with the grating and virginal nobility of a family-friendly hero? The banter between the two is more unimaginative than the chemistry they share, not informed by the fact that one can’t tell if Anshika is smiling or crying in the dramatic scenes.
Then for some reason, the gang features mercenaries of multiple nationalities (Russian, Asian, African), almost as if Sanak invaded a Hollywood-action toy store in Worli and came away with the worst retro tropes. Breakout Panchayat actor Chandan Roy is cast as the “comic relief,” mandatory Muslim character and unnecessary hero-sidekick in the hospital: He is reduced to puns like “I thought you were Mogambo but you are Rambo!” and jokingly telling a gun-nerd kid that he will grow up to be a terrorist. He also conveniently disappears during the high-octane moments and reappears when Vivaan needs a human map. The ACP (Neha Dhupia) in charge of the crisis simply camps outside the highrise in a van, barks pointless orders to her team and takes phone calls from Vivaan. For someone who is introduced as a badass who squeezes the nuts of the men she interrogates, her role is rather anticlimactic. And for someone whose daughter is strapped to a bomb inside, her role is rather passive. The problem is that not even the film thinks she’s incompetent. Her only purpose is to appear patriotically pained by the fact that the hostage situation is centered on a corrupt arms dealer responsible for the deaths of 18 Indian soldiers at the border. What’s a violence-loving Hindi film without some token nationalism?
Even an interesting actor like Chandan Roy Sanyal, as megavillain Saju, does a very cookie-cutter-eccentric impression: For instance, he sings a nursery rhyme to appear sinister, or goes “Sanak, huh? Nice word!” when Vivaan threatens to end him. If Sanak were the first action film ever made, it would still feel unoriginal. With Mumbai Diaries 26/11 just having proved that hospital-hostage dramas can be both thrilling and plausible, Sanak is as untimely as they come.
Sanak does have one nice touch, though. Evil Saju suspects that there is something at stake for angelic tormentor, Vivaan. He senses Vivaan has a loved one in the mix. Why would he randomly kill baddies to save a generic hospital (other than the fact that he’s Vidyut Jammwal)? When Saju learns that his full name is Vivaan Ahuja, he starts to look through the patient-list for the same surname. The conceit, of course, is that Anshika has retained her own surname – a rare nod to the tradition-fluid urban marriage in an age of social conformism. Never mind that Vivaan’s trademark joke is that she shouldn’t injure his crotch because he wants to have children. You win some, you lose some. Even Denzel Washington would agree.