I don’t have that much to say about this movie, really, but I also thought I should put up a post before Naam Shabana comes out. And there is no news today, or anyone’s birthday, or any other possible topic for another post, so I thought I might as well put it up.
Gonna have a really short non-SPOILER section for this review. Because this is a “process” movie, meaning there isn’t really any deep themes or character development or anything to talk about. It’s a purposefully stripped down recitation of what happened.
The little bit of a theme that we do get, I don’t like so much. Tends to lean a little heavily on the “if only our brave heroes were allowed to do whatever they wanted we could end this threat”. And way more heavily on “there are constant hidden MUSLIM threats to our nation, booga-booga be scared all the time.”
There is a brief comment in the middle of the film that the increase in minority community violence within India is a sign of the failure of the Indian government to properly protect and address the concerns of these communities. Which, yay! That is a lovely point to make. I only wish it hadn’t been followed up by another two hours of “They are all out to kill us, don’t turn out the lights when you go to bed at night, a terrorist is hiding under your bed!”
But, thank goodness, most of the film is about process rather than discussion, so I could ignore the overriding “be afraid! Be very afraid!” theme for most of the film. And the process parts are handled very nicely. I could understand what was happening in each action sequence, what the goal was and how it shifted, etc. etc.
And the actors were excellent “process” type actors. Kept the emoting down to a minimum, focused on getting the job done instead, and delivered all their expository dialogue as though it was fascinating to them and should be to me as well. I was mostly watching this for Taapsee, to prepare for her sequel, and she didn’t exactly knock my eyes out with her skill. But, she did have a few moments that really struck me in her performance.
Okay, enough of that, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
What overriding “plot” there is, we learn in the first few minutes. Danny Denzongpa has been put in charge of an experimental elite black ops team charged with going above and beyond to prevent terrorist threats. There are 4 members of the team currently, and the experimental term is set to expire shortly.
(Whoa! Danny Denzongpa was kind of exotic hot when he was young!)
After that, it’s just a series of loosely connected missions. We open in medias res, with a man being tortured and Akshay running through a foreign local trying to find him with assistance from info being fed him from India. Akshay finds the guy, sees that he is seriously beat up and that the captor is escaping. And then, in the first big new note of, Akshay shoots the captive in the head and chases off after the bad guy. And he doesn’t do it like “I am tortured by this decision!”, but more like “unpleasant thing, has to be done.”
That’s the big difference in this movie from other Indian action films. There’s no nonsense about it, our heroes do big dramatic heroic things, but they don’t do them with fancy one-liners and intense expressions on their faces and torn shirts and all that stuff. They just do them, while wearing practical outfits and using the minimum of dialogue.
(why aren’t all action movies just like Bang Bang, The Greatest Movie of 2014/Katrina Kaif’s career?)
And the rest of the film is just as practical. Only one song, no fancy camera work, no exotic sets or settings, not even interesting costumes. Although there are some interesting characters. From the tiny little bits of information we get about them.
The top characters are Akshay and Taapsee. I can see why she gets the spin off. Akshay, of course, is the hero of the film. Both “hero” like the character who does a lot of stuff, and also “hero” like the big name star of the film. So we get to see Akshay at home with his wife, we get to see him get angry when the sacrifices his team has made are disparaged, and we get to see him be the one who decides to make the big risks and take the big decisions.
I’m not totally thrilled by what we see of his homelife. I like that he is this big scary action hero, but at home he is just a normal husband and father. And I liked the little moment when he is telling his wife his cover story for the last trip, and she asks him why he bothers, because she knows he can’t tell the truth, she is okay with just not knowing anything, and Akshay says he has to say something, so she has something to tell the kids, so they feel like they know their father. But I don’t like that his wife is stuck being so isolated from everything that happens. And that Akshay seems to have no consequences to his actions when he is home. If we had one PTSD scene of him waking from a nightmare and her calming him, I would feel better about it.
(Who is this woman? Why is she so familiar? Madhurima Tuli? Apparently in Hamari Adhuri Kahani as some character or other that I don’t remember)
But Taapsee, I loved what we saw of her! Although there was a little-bitty bit of unfair play in the script to set it up. They describe the op where she joins Akshay as “a honey trap”. Which make it sounds like she is just there to be the sexy bait. Especially because we also just learned that the target spends all his time surfing porn online.
She does seem interesting when we first meet her, sitting next to Akshay on a plane and teasing him about snoring, to which he says “you are getting too comfortable playing my wife”, because they are traveling as husband and wife. It’s a nice interaction, because it is clearly a co-worker interaction. They know each other well enough to tease each other, but there is no sexual tension between them, it is just friendship.
And then the operation starts, and she seems maybe kind of incompetent? Or else maybe pretending to be incompetent, it’s not clear which. Her character is supposed to be a low level operative from Bombay who is nervous about delivering a package to her contact. But is she just pretending to be a first time operative who is nervous, or is she actually a first time operative who is just on this mission because she is pretty? And why is the goal to get him back to the hotel? Is she supposed to seduce him, is that why she is there?
And then the mission goes wrong, and Akshay gets upset and worried and there is a series of great rapid cuts from her arriving at the hotel and nervously entering the room alone with the target, and Akshay desperately rushing back. But the really amazing sequence, both for Taapsee’s acting and the direction and over all concept, is when Taapsee realizes she is alone in the hotel and no help is on the way. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom, and then, hands shaking, takes off her dupatta. Lets down her hair. And strips off her jewelry. It looks like she is preparing to seduce the target. But then she puts her hair up in a ponytail? That’s weird. And thens he comes out and fight scene immediately starts!
It’s great to have her, a smallish woman, being in this fight scene. But it is SO MUCH BETTER after all this lead up. That we think she is just a honey trap, that she is out of her depth, and finally that she is preparing to be all sexy and seductive. And then, twist! No, of course, she isn’t just a sexy lady, that would be crazy, she is Akshay’s co-worker, they had that little joke, of course she is his equal.
And the fight scene is great too. Because it isn’t “easy” for her. We can see that she is struggling, that she is fighting for her life, that she is moving past the pain and the fear and eventually taking him down. I hate the Superwoman trope, where the woman can do everything because she just can. But I also hate the damsel in distress idea. This is just about perfect, she isn’t some magical super fighter, but she also isn’t helplessly waiting to be rescued. Plus, it helps Akshay’s character look better. He is rushing to rescue her, because she is legitimately struggling to win this fight, he isn’t a jerk for having low expectations of her. But on the other hand, he also isn’t a jerk for setting her off on this mission on her own, he knew that she could probably take care of herself.
And then the rest of the movie happens. Kind of interesting structure, we follow Akshay through the whole film, but his partners and his targets keep shifting. Taapsee helped him bring back someone who helped him track down Kay Kay Menon (still not my favorite villain performance, he will never be able to top his character in ABCD). And then once they track down Kay Kay, they discover he is connected to the Big Bad, the Kashmiri spokesmen/leader. Akshay’s team, now made up of Rana Daggubatti and Anupum Kher, has the chance to kidnap the Big Bad, and they decide to take it. With the help of their local contact. Interesting here, a lot of time spent in the middle east with a middle eastern actor. Is this an early effort to go after the UAE market, by having a lot of scenes there and a good guy character from there?
Oh, and then the mission succeeds and they all come back home, to learn that their team has been officially renewed, and have a celebratory drink with each other, Rana and Taapsee and Akshay and Anupum all together. Which, again, is a little interesting in a meta way, because it kind of leaves the door open for a sequel in the Mission Impossible/The Avengers sort of way.
And now we have a sequel! With Taapsee’s character! Who has so much left unknown about her, I am excited to find out what we learn in her own movie!