There is little differentiating Vidyut Jammwal walking into a seduction scene, from Vidyut Jammwal walking into a fight scene. The slow walking, the sly smirk, the layer by layer unclothing. (Of course, once the walk is over, the scenes are different— one ending in pecks, and the other in punctures.) At first I found this odd, that Jammwal has just as much, if not more chemistry with the person he is going to gun down, than with the lady he’s pinned down. This is a symptom of the over-swaggered persona. He swaggers and smizes through everything, with that slow-mo bravado, and the permanently stitched smirk on his face. It’s what his fans love, and it’s exactly what irritated me. He looks like he’s always staring into a mirror in deep pleasure. The women he’s with are so weak-kneed in this presence, he might as well be romancing cutouts.
The violence he inflicts though is thoughtful. If you were the brainchild of betrayal, he will shoot your brains. If you betrayed a person who loved you, he will shoot your heart. If you cast an evil eye on his business, he will shoot your eyes. Poetic justice, with some blood, some monotony, and some casteist prejudice on the side. (“Never Fuck With A Thakur!”, “Ek Thakur Ko Maarkar Kisi Ko Zinda Rehne Ka Haq Nahin Hai!”) He also does all kinds of stunts, stretching his body in ways I thought impossible, if not improbable. And even as the blood tires, the different postures he strikes to bring out the blood don’t fail to entertain.
Mahesh Manjrekar is the wounded tiger, and Jammwal plays one of his sons, Devi, a cook returned from Singapore, who now gets embroiled in the dirty business of power-laundering. Jisshu Sengupta plays the over-emotive elder son who could cuss through a nursery rhyme, and Prateik Babbar, as the grin-evil son-in-law. These are all caricatures propped up by actors having fun with it. Prateek Babbar’s sole presence was to give the viewers vicarious pleasure every time he gets slapped. Sengupta seems to have walked in from the set of Sadak 2, unencumbered by the awful lines he’s given. Shruti Haasan plays Parveen, Devi’s lover. She’s Muslim, and so her mother is a kothe-wali, her father does panch-waqt-ki-namaz, and she peppers her banal delivery with Urdu words like bepanaah.
There’s a brilliant moment that breaks the film in two parts — when Parveen promises to murder all the Thakurs to dust. Her transformation from lover to power is replete when her ghararas are replaced with pathani kurtas. I would have loved some flowing fabrics as bullets mangled enemies, but that’s just my Bhansali brain speaking. A big showdown ala Ram-Leela was expected. But the damp squib hour-long weep-fest that followed was a disappointment as much as it was a disaster. Honestly, the amount of double-crossing, criss-crossing that happens in this story, it takes a moment to realize where this trampoline of violence began, or perhaps, will end. People keep dropping like flies in this Godfather-tale that very quickly turns stale. It’s 2.5 hours of bloodlust. How much of Jammwal’s kalari can one endure?
Police officers usually foregrounding portraits of Ambedkar and Gandhi, are now foregrounding Bose and Shivaji. In this midst of this there’s a muscle-man named Robert, whose sole job it is to crush people’s skulls. I laughed, not only because, like so much that was unintended in this film, it was funny, but also because it was a fitting metaphor for this film. If this film is Robert — muscular and washed off personality — the skull is me — smashed.