Director: Prabhu Deva
Writers: Vijay Maurya, AC Mughil
Cinematography: Ayananka Bose
Edited by: Ritesh Soni
Starring: Salman Khan, Disha Patani, Randeep Hooda, Jackie Shroff
Streaming on: Zee5, ZeePlex
For the first time in 15 months, I've spent two consecutive hours feeling sad, helpless, frustrated and enraged at something other than the Covid-19 pandemic. If that isn't escapism, I don't know what is. Every fibre of my being rearranged itself in an effort to understand how Salman Khan appears to be more expressive – and interested – as a Bigg Boss host than as the star of his own movies. Radhe plays Salman Khan in Prabhudeva's latest action-romance-comedy-social-drama-thriller, an official adaptation of Kang Yoon-sung's The Outlaws. He sports that shiny turquoise bracelet, says something about biryani and Eid and fans, spouts dialogue from Dabangg (something something commitment), chases crooks on a Being Human bicycle across town, and is dropped outside Bandra's Galaxy Apartments. Radhe doesn't bleed, he donates raw blood to the universe. His entrance shot has him smashing through a French window like a malfunctioning motion poster, before biting down on one of the razor-sharp glass shards mid-air and spitting it out with such force that it grazes the fat cheek of an unfit onlooker (who promptly proceeds to die of a heart attack). A few seconds later, it is established that Radhe is so special and brutal that he turns back time to force a stunned villain to savour the longer version of his entry scene.
In between, Khan pretends to be a struggling Lokhandwala model to woo a model named Diya ("I will name my sister NaDiya"), goes topless to make his left breast shudder while she sprays water on it (don't ask), and at one point imagines himself dancing with a tiny-red-dress-wearing Jackie Shroff at a birthday party. After being naked for most of OK Computer and in a gorilla suit for Hello Charlie, the skimpy red dress marks Shroff's 2021 fashion sense coming full circle. Speaking of coming full circle, a scene features Disha Patani's Diya doing a sensuous mating dance when she sees Khan alone in a room, only to eventually find him asleep with his eyes open. The sexual innuendo ("Khade khade so gaya") that follows is what I always imagined yesteryear vamp specialist Deepshikha thinking when she seduced Amrish Puri's vile Raja in an identical scene from Koyla.
He sports that shiny turquoise bracelet, says something about biryani and Eid and fans, spouts dialogue from Dabangg (something something commitment), chases crooks on a Being Human bicycle across town, and is dropped outside Bandra's Galaxy Apartments. Radhe doesn't bleed, he donates raw blood to the universe.
Radhe opens with a montage of how Mumbai's innocent youngsters are trapped in the throes of drug addiction (a TV anchor emphatically asks, "how will we remove DRUGS from this city?") – a section that can easily be confused as an extension of the gutkha and anti-smoking PSAs preceding a theatrical print. On this note, perhaps the most iconic image of the film features a passing shot of a newspaper. The headline reads, and I quote: "Drug addicted student (Sumit) jumped from a four storey building in the fear of failing his exams. Left a suicide note for his mother saying 'Drugs killed me'." This is only the headline. Notice the parentheses mentioning the name of the boy. The article below has a headline that reads: "Yograj Singh Caught and Bowled by Sumi Angre". (As you might have noticed, one of the many pleasures of being able to review a Salman Khan movie on a streaming platform involves freezing a frame and noting down the nuances.).
Speaking of Yuvraj Singh, the actor who once played an approximation of the "fun-loving" cricketer in Heroine is the dark villain of Radhe. Randeep Hooda is Rana, a black trenchcoat-wearing drug lord who struts around Mumbai with his two henchmen like Krypton super-criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non from Superman II. There is a special place in heaven for all the competent actors who get a lavish laugh out of being on autopilot opposite Salman Khan in his home productions. Hooda joins the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-led list and steals the show simply by existing. Given that Radhe as a film doesn't offer much to humans who've had the misfortune of being born with brains, I found myself instead joining disparate cultural dots to make the most of my experience.
For instance, Randeep Hooda plays a kingpin who preys on youngsters with drugs, a subconscious ode to serial killer Charles Sobhraj, a role Hooda incidentally played in the trippy Main Aur Charles (2015). The latest dramatization of Sobhraj is the Netflix mini-series, The Serpent, which for some reason features actor Pravesh Rana as the Nepali policeman who nabs Sobhraj. Apart from the fact that Hooda plays a character named Rana here, Pravesh himself appears in Khan's entry scene as the rich rapist that Radhe demolishes with an equally rich "Aurat zat ke liye (for all the women)" punchline. There, I had to get the nerd-trivia out of my system. The rest of it is clogged with hallucinatory visuals of Khan hunting down Rana (the character, not the actor) by activating the country's school-going youth with a speech that goes: "Kya aap social media par hai? Yes? Good!". They then whip out their cell phone cameras and start to record so that viewers are subjected to yet another Bollywood movie's uncle-level take on how videos go viral. Minutes later, Radhe Khan manages to drop in a 'Swachh Bharat' nod after breaking a baddy on a messy floor. Talk about adapting with the times. Somewhere between social media and Swachh Bharat, a nation today is under siege. Radhe is only the most wanted escape.