Director: Rohit Shetty, Sushwanth Prakash
Writers: Rohit Shetty, Sandeep Saket, Anusha Nandakumar, Ayush Trivedi, Sanchit Bedre, Vidhi Ghodgaonkar
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Vivek Oberoi, Mayyank Taandon, Mukesh Rishi, Vaidehi Parashurami
Streaming on: Prime Video
Rohit Shetty’s Indian Police Force is seven episodes long, but that’s an optical illusion. It is the cinematic equivalent of a show-poodle whose curly coat constitutes 90 percent of its appearance. Shave off the slow-mo swagger and ramp-walking, the slow-mo breathing, the slow-mo bullets and cars, the slow-mo acting and thinking, the slow-mo Islamophobia and cop propaganda — and all that remains is one episode worth of naked and nervy body. The best performer in this action thriller soars through the sky and defies gravity in style. Except, it’s not human — it’s the drone camera. Nearly every close-up that opens on a face threatens to pull out and float up over the city like an errant gas balloon. Talk about ‘seeing the bigger picture’. The beginning has the pace of a climax and the end has the rhythm of a prologue.
Given that this is Shetty’s first foray into long-form entertainment, the show tries everything possible to stretch out its episodes and inflate time. The result sets Indian streaming back by at least a decade: At times, it resembles a rival goalkeeper dramatically holding and diving with the ball to run down the clock. The low-angle entry shots are so low that it’s a miracle no cinematographers were harmed during production. The editing is — to quote one of the characters — “rushed in a hurry,” with most scenes unfolding as if the ten-second fast-forward button were perpetually pressed.
Indian Police Force stars Sidharth Malhotra as DSP Kabir Malik, the half-hearted Good-Muslim hero whose surname may as well have been Sharma or Patel. The title credits feature a song whose only lyrics are ‘Jai Hind’. Following serial blasts in Delhi (where fire burns like a VFX glitch), hot-headed Kabir sets out to hunt down terrorists named Rafique, Shadab, Zarar, Mohsin and Wasim so that he can angrily ask them: “Islam tere baap ka hai?” He has no patience for them, blaming their brainwashed actions for ruining the image of his religion while repeatedly referring to their jihad as “chutiyapa”. Not even a mandatory communal-riot flashback (where a Muslim man’s factory in flames sets his son on a path of extremism and evil madrasas) does the job. Lest we misunderstand their identities, their vocabulary is sprinkled with token terms like adaab, ammi, jumma, kaafir, janaab, bhaijaan and mazhab.
The Bad-Muslim villain is an Indian Mujahideen member named Zarar (Mayyank Taandon), who hops from Delhi to Jaipur to Goa to Darbhanga to Dhaka while making bombs that look like delayed Amazon packages. When the police chief (Mukesh Rishi; a far cry from his Sarfarosh days) sees a sketch of the absconding Zarar, he eloquently declares: “Let’s find this ghost who bombs”. It’s like watching a kindergarten adaptation of The Family Man (Sharad Kelkar has a cameo too), where green screen backgrounds and poorly choreographed violence become the reluctant protagonists. It nearly made me rethink my criticism of Neeraj Pandey’s The Freelancer (2023). When the story cartwheels into Bangladesh, the sepia-tinted filter is so yellow that it would put Hollywood South-Asian-exoticization vehicles like Extraction (2020) to shame.
Kabir has a sad past of course – his wife (Isha Talwar) is dead, and we know this because she used to smile a lot for no particular reason. Most tragic figures do that in Hindi cinema. The dialogue is so tacky that when her rare disease is mentioned in passing, Kabir’s mother lovingly says “ussi ki tarah (just like her)” followed by an awkward pause, before she clarifies: “rare”. (If this were a comedy — which it often unintentionally is — a lady calling her daughter-in-law a 'rare disease' might have been punctuated with a cartoonish sound effect.) There’s also Kabir’s immediate boss, Vikram Bakshi (Vivek Oberoi), who looks like a Seventies’ henchman struggling to deal with the glare of sudden limelight. Gujarat ATS chief Tara Shetty (Shilpa Shetty Kundra) strides in midway through the series to aid this manhunt, and also so that Kabir can crack a shockingly mean in-joke about Shettys loving gold. There is some tension between Tara and Vikram, then Tara and Kabir, but only because none of the missions have any narrative tension.
Shootouts happen on roads, station platforms, city centers and crowded markets. Covert operations are for losers. Collateral damage and dead civilians are but a flimsy footnote; it’s their fault if they dare to obstruct the path of a Bollywood bullet. Kabir argues that nabbing terrorists should be personal; I spent the next hour trying to figure out where we’ve heard that line before. There is no blatant Pakistan-bashing here, but it has many surrogates, which makes me wonder if I should just compose a stock paragraph about iffy politics for the rest of the year. At one point, the Delhi cops gleefully wreck midtown Dhaka, extract their target, and escape Bangladeshi intelligence agents by literally ramming their van through border gates before screeching to a halt on the Indian side. One of them stops short of sticking out his tongue in defiance. Extradition is for losers. As are borders. If you listen closely, you might even hear Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s voice reverberating through history: “Am I a joke to you?”