Director: Mohit Suri
Writer: Mohit Suri & Aseem Arora
Cast: John Abraham, Disha Patani, Tara Sutaria, Arjun Kapoor
In Ek Villain Returns, John Abraham plays a character named Bhairav who has two jobs. He's a driver with an Uber-like car service and he's also a zoo keeper. When Bhairav isn't driving people around – he mostly has one customer Rasika – he's feeding a large, CGI tiger. And that's not the most absurd thing about this film.
Eight years ago, director Mohit Suri, seemingly inspired by the Korean film I Saw the Devil (2010), created a deeply misogynistic but genuinely creepy tale about a serial killer. Rakesh Mahadkar, a seemingly meek and ineffectual man, dealt with his frustration and anxieties by killing women. Rakesh says, "Tum sabki nikalti jaan ke saath, meri har chinta, sari stress nikalti hai [Seeing life seep out of each of you is my stressbuster]." Riteish Deshmukh delivered a terrific performance as the unhinged Rakesh. Both the film and viewers were on his side as he went around plunging screwdrivers into overly shrill women who gave him a hard time. And there was singer Ankit Tiwari's chart-busting 'Galliyan' song, which propelled the film further.
Suri's gender politics haven't improved much. Ek Villain Returns also suggests that if women behave a certain way, they deserve to die. But this film is so relentlessly silly that taking offence feels like too much of an effort. Ek Villain Returns is about shades of villainy. All the characters – Bhairav (Abraham), Rasika (Disha Patani), Aarvi (Tara Sutaria) and Gautam (Arjun Kapoor) – do bad things. These range from multiple murders to furthering your own career by ruining someone else's to gate-crashing an ex's marriage and humiliating them in front of the guests. This idea of four nasty people entangled in a web of love and violence might have been intriguing if the story and the performances had some spark.
But the leads mostly go through the motions as though the sole motivation was the paycheck at the end of the shoot. The women look lovely. The men snarl and fight. In the climax, Abraham tears off his own shirt to show off those deadly muscles. J. D. Chakravarthy also appears as a cop whose sole purpose is to help explain the concept of the serial killer to viewers who might not know. To help us in the audience remember what we are watching, characters keep saying the word villain. There are lines like, "Blockbuster jodi hai humari, main villain, tu vamp (We're a blockbuster pair. I'm the villain, you're the vamp"; or "Tu hero toh main teri kahani ka villain (If you're the hero, I'm the villain in your story)." In one scene, Patani's character Rasika asks Bhairav, "Tune kiya hai kabhi, sex? (Have you done it before? Had sex?)" And Abraham, who turns 50 next year, looks so confused and pained that I wondered if he understood, in that exact moment, the futility of doing a film like this.
The preposterous plot is held together by love ballads, none of which match the plaintive, lilting 'Galliyan'. A version of that song also features. My guess is that Suri, who has written the film with Aseem Arora, was attempting a thriller that examines the dark recesses of the human heart and the uncomfortable connection between sex and violence. There are scenes here which suggest that brutality works like an aphrodisiac. But this could just be me trying to project some design onto a film that is defiantly incoherent. The final frontier of foolishness is breached in the climax – I won't spoil it for you, but it pushes the film firmly into the so-bad-that-it's-good territory.
So once again, I must go back to American film critic Gene Siskel's immortal line — "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" The answer is a resounding no.