Director: Mahesh Bhatt
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt
Writers: Mahesh Bhatt, Suhrita Sengupta
Cinematographers: Jay I. Patel
Editor: Sandeep Kurup
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
To watch Sadak 2 is to travel in a time machine. You of course revisit the 90s – the film is a sequel to Sadak, which released in 1991. Once again, Sanjay Dutt is Ravi, a suicidal, mentally unstable driver. In the original film, he was like this because his sister became a sex worker and was killed by the sadistic brothel madam Maharani. Ravi then finds redemption and purpose in rescuing a young girl named Pooja who has been sold by her uncle to Maharani. In Sadak 2, he is suicidal because Pooja is dead. He then finds redemption and purpose in rescuing a young girl named Aarya, from a sadistic godman and her own dysfunctional family.
Sadak 2 doesn't just mirror the original in terms of narrative beats. The storytelling, performances dialogue, cinematography, songs, background music – all seem to belong to the 90s, which was the last time Mahesh Bhatt directed a film before this. Bhatt, who has co-written the story with Suhrita Sengupta, is still resolutely stuck in thirty years ago. Gulshan Grover, who did multiple films with him then, reappears here as a one-handed baddie named Hathkatta – it's like time has stopped.
In some scenes, Sadak 2 goes even further back – an owl named Kumbhkaran helps Ravi to fight the bad guys, which might remind you of the wondrous eagle Allah Rakha in Amitabh Bachchan's Coolie, released in 1983. And the celestial touch of Shivji Bhagwan in the climax will remind you of dozens of old Hindi films in which the gods themselves staged a timely intervention. All of which is to say that Sadak 2 is flat-out bonkers.
Take the character of the dhongi baba Gyan Prakash played by Makarand Deshpande. Incidentally, Gyan Prakash is also the name of a renowned historian at Princeton University whose book Mumbai Fables was adapted into Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet. I don't know if there is some subtext there. Then again, this film has little text so perhaps we shouldn't be looking for subtext. Makarand, matching a terrible wig with hollowed-out cheeks, does his best to summon up perversity and danger but mostly, he's hilarious. The godman sits on a beauteous throne. In one scene, he petulantly bangs his gold staff on the floor. And he has terrific taste in jewellery – I was admiring his bracelets and necklaces.
The original Sadak liberally lifted from Hollywood films like Lethal Weapon and Taxi Driver. But the film's USP was the character of Maharani, a transgender madam who proudly declares: Kamaal ka dimaag hai mere paas isliye mardon ki seva karti hoon aur auraton ka dhanda, yahan ka raja, iis jism ke bazaar ka maharaja aur naam, maharani. Of course, Maharani was problematic and furthered negative stereotypes but the character, enacted with gusto by Sadashiv Amrapurkar, propelled the film. By contrast, Gyan Prakash giving lectures about the Brahman, is unforgivably lame.
I suspect only the fine Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta, whom you might recognize from films like Barfi, Mardaani and more recently Shakuntala Devi, understood that Sadak 2 is a trainwreck so he decided to have fun and ham. Playing Aarya's father, he goes full frontal on expressions, swagger, emotion and is consistently watchable. The others don't do as well.
My heart went out to Sanjay Dutt who plays Ravi with sincerity. But at every step, the script gets in the way. I don't know which actor could convincingly pull off the scenes Sanjay is required to perform here – these include chatting regularly with his dead wife and trying to kill himself by hanging from a ceiling fan, which breaks because of his weight.
Aditya Roy Kapur looks dazed and Alia Bhatt, confused. Unlike Pooja in Sadak, Aarya isn't a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. She actively drives the action, which is the one sign that this is a 2020 film. But even an actor of Alia's calibre can't do much with such sloppy storytelling and clumsy dialogue. In one scene, Aarya says emphatically about Ravi, "He knows me and understands me". I wish we could all find chauffeurs like this.
More than anything, Sadak 2 is a brutal reminder of the ravages of time. The film features moments from Sadak and it's startling to see how youth and beauty have frayed. As have Mahesh Bhatt's formidable skills as a storyteller.
When Sadak 2 ended, I resolved to pretend that it never happened. I would rather remember the gut-wrenching impact of Mahesh's earlier films like Arth, Saaransh and Zakhm.
I'll do the same for Makarand. My favorite film visual of the actor is him and Shah Rukh Khan dancing on the hill to A. R. Rahman's Yun hi Chala Chala in Swades. I'm going to stick with that.
You can see Sadak 2 on DisneyPlus Hotstar.