This is one of those silly stupid fun movies that had a couple of moments that made me go “wait, am I imagining a hidden message here, or is it actually here?” So I am going to need your help in the comments to figure this out!
First, I should explain, after I saw Pokiri and LOVED it, I looked up the director and saw it was the same director as Bujjigaddu, which I also LOVED, and then I saw that the same director just made Businessman, also with Mahesh, which is when I decided to watch it next. That’s it, there was no deeper level to the decision, no one recommended it to me or anything.
And frankly, I was kind of disappointed. The only version I could find on youtube with subtitles was Hindi dubbed and ten minutes shorter than the non-dubbed Telugu version, so I may have missed some things plotwise. But what I really missed was the clever little visual touches.
In Bujjigaddu, there were all these great split screens and kind of comic-book like touches, it gave this great feel of lightness and self-awareness to everything. In Pokiri, there were a few split screen moments, and also some really clever things with depth of field, one figure in the foreground with another in the background. Stuff like that, that’s why I was excited about this director.
But in this movie, not so much. There is one moment towards the beginning when our hero fights a bunch of people in a bar, and then sits down to talk to them. And he keeps turning and addressing the camera as well, and then in the middle of the scene he hands a beer to the camera, and a hand reaches up to take it, and you realize it isn’t the usual stupid thing where the monologue is straight at the camera for no reason, there is a guy he knocked out lying (laying?) on the floor directly in front of the camera and that’s who he is supposed to be talking to! But I don’t remember nearly as many clever little touches like that as there were in the other two Puri Jagannadh films I have seen.
The romance also wasn’t quite as good. What I liked in Bujjugadu and Pokiri is how he managed to take the standard stalker bad boy romance tropes and slide them ever so slightly to the side to make them “okay”. But in this, it wasn’t quite a subversive fantasy, and it also wasn’t quite “okay”. Also, I think I may not like Kajal Aggarwal? Is she possibly just not that good? I really really loved her in Singham, but I’ve seen her in a few southern movies now and I just don’t find her that great. A little too much open mouthed gasping, and eyelash batting flirting.
(Or maybe I just love Ajay with a mustache so much, that the love kind of spilled over onto Kajal?)
But in this, it was just the kind of standard “sheltered spirited girl who’s bad boy boyfriend is trying to make her admit she loves him.” There was a scene in the middle that was awesome, but most of the love story was just “eh”.
But here’s the thing I found amazing, which I wasn’t expecting at all! It actually named Bombay gangsters! Movies never actually name them! In fact, they usually have huge disclaimers in the beginning to very aggressively NOT name them! But this one, the very first scene has a cop listing off “Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Rajan” and all the rest!
And then the story is about our hero gaining power in the city and becoming a new gangster to take down, not crime, but a corrupt politician who is running for Prime Minister. And I kind of thought of Modi a little? He is from a conservative party, there is a scandal when his hidden wife is discovered, he has a history of violence, and so on.
But then, I also know that southern films can be super political and also super specific, so maybe this is some southern politician I don’t know about? Or no politician at all and I am just imagining it? I’m honestly not sure.
What I think I am not imagining is the message that Indian society rests on three powers, the gangsters/businessman, the cops, and the politicians. When the cops announce they have defeated all the gangsters in Bombay, a new one must arrive to fill the void or else the politicians will become too powerful.
And, SPOILER time, because I have to talk about the ending. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Mahesh Babu arrives in Bombay right after the police commissioner announces that all the big time gangsters are gone and the city is safe. Mahesh tells his friend who meets him at the train when he arrives that he is going to become the next big gangster. He quickly gets a commission to kill someone in prison, and succeeds spectacularly (by organizing a prison Kabaddi game in which the guy is crushed to death. Okay, that’s another kind of clever touch from the director). He also finds all the low level gangsters who are now out of a job and gets them to work for him as the new boss.
And at the same time he is securing his power in the city, he is also randomly flirting with a young woman he meets on the oceanfront. First he stops her and yells at her for stalking him and messaging him on Facebook and calling him over and over again (if this movie were a little more recent, I would say it is a Kangana-Hrithik reference). Then he approaches her again and apologizes, saying he mistook her for someone else. And dropping hints that he is a fabulously wealthy NRI.
And then finally he invites her back to his flat, a dump by the trainlines, and casually admits that he isn’t rich, but he is in love with her. Very odd! Even odder, he buys her a car and she says she loves him, then takes it back when he says it is just because of the car. And then she says it again to prove it is true even after he takes the car back. Such a start and stop romance! No clear through line like in Pokiri where you knew they loved each other all along, even if they were pretending otherwise. Or in Bujjigadu where they were insanely faithful to just the idea of each other.
And then it gets odder when she finds out he was just using her because she is the commissioner’s daughter. At which point he says he really does love her anyway and lets the police arrest him. Or, maybe not, because his friends kidnap her anyway once he is in jail. I just don’t get it! I mean, I believe he loves her, because he is our hero, but I never really got anything clear from her as to how she felt. Plus, there is a really difficult to excuse date rape scene thrown in the middle there for no clear reason.
There is another scene right at the end which almost works, when she is taken hostage and he sacrifices himself to save her, finally convincing her that he cares. But the scenes that really landed for me between those two were few and far between.
And then in the end the whole romance is kind of pushed to the side anyway, because it becomes all about the backstory and revenge, we find out the evil politician stole Mahesh’s parents’ money and then killed them, and Mahesh has been trying to get revenge for 14 years. He doesn’t believe in society or helping each other or anything, just in having a goal and doing whatever it takes to achieve it.
And in the end, he does! Coordinating the entire national election from his headquarters, he takes the election away from evil Prakash Raj. And this is after he has essentially set up a parallel tax system, spreading his gang through out Indian and taking 2% income from every business. And in the end, he sits in his headquarters, waiting with Kajal at his side for the new PM to come meet him. And he gives advice through TV reporters to the youth of India to pursue whatever it is they want with a single-minded dedication, because that is all that matters.
Just, such an odd movie! These flashes of brilliance, these little bits of imagination and originality, and then it just gets confused again.
Or maybe (and this is my nightmare!) it’s actually a perfectly logical reasonable film and I just didn’t get it because I was stuck with the Hindi-dubbed version that was missing ten minutes.