I’m awake, I’ve had a bagel for breakfast, I am ready to come back to this movie with spoilers. I already put up a “no spoilers” review, you can read that if you want to go in really fresh, there are two big twists you might not want to miss out on. However, the majority of the film is just action sequences you could predict from the trailer, so it may not be worth avoiding spoilers.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Tiger is a SuperSoldier in Kashmir who gets a call from his old girlfriend Disha Patani asking him to come to Goa and help her. He takes leave and goes to meet her, she tells him her 3 year old daughter was kidnapped and no one is helping. He goes with her to the police, who try to get her to sign off on the file to close the case and also flirt with her a bit, Tiger is furious and beats them all up, gets arrested. And is freed by Manoj Bajpai, the head of the police who gently warns him to watch himself while he is on leave. Tiger also keeps flashing back to their college romance, they were in love and going to elope, but then Disha’s father was diagnosed with cancer and his dying wish was for her to marry the man he chose. Tiger keeps investigating, puts a photo of the daughter in the paper, the only photo Disha has, she is mysteriously not on social media or has any photos of her daughter on the walls. He also sees Disha’s horrible drug addict brother-in-law Pratiek Babbar hanging around. A man responds to the add saying that it is a photo of his daughter who was kidnapped, and he has an album of photos of her. Tiger is suspicious, and then he finally gets a call from Disha’s husband, back in town after a business trip. Disha’s husband says that Disha never had a daughter, she had a miscarriage and a car jacking, the head injuries made her think she had a daughter, her husband has been trying to protect her, tell people she is confused, so she had to call on an old friend to bring in one more person to her delusion. Tiger confronts Disha with everything that doesn’t make sense about her story, tries to convince her she imagined it, and then turns away and sees height markings on the wall proving that the daughter existed, just as Disha jumps off the balcony killing herself.
Tiger is now convinced the daughter existed and looks for her harder than ever. He finally gets an informant who delivered drugs for Prateik to tell him that he saw a little girl being delivered to Prateik’s hide out. Tiger goes after Prateik and they are both arrested by Randeep Hooda, the wacky new inspector in town. Manoj Bajpai shows up and insists on running the interrogation. It goes wrong, Prateik takes Manoj’s gun, and Randeep shoots him. Tiger is released and Manoj encourages him to just leave it, let the police investigate. Tiger goes to check on his informant and finds him being beat up. Tiger beats up the attackers and then checks their cell phones, discovers Manoj was their boss, he has coordinated the whole thing. Tiger goes to attack Manoj’s remote jungle fastness, massive action sequence, finally he confronts Manoj who explains that he was running a drug smuggling business with Prateik, he saw the little girl at Prateik’s place and rescued her, and held on to her to blackmail Prateik and Disha’s husband into working with him in bringing in one final big delivery. Randeep Hooda shows up last minute to kill Manoj for Tiger. Tiger wakes up in the hospital and gets the last piece of the puzzle. Disha’s husband wanted to kill her, but the car jacking went wrong and they ended up with the little girl instead and Disha in the hospital. The reason he wanted to kill Disha and her daughter was because be had found out he was sterile, meaning it couldn’t be his daughter. Which is when Tiger realizes it was his daughter, that’s why Disha called on him. Tiger reunites with his daughter and starts life anew as a single father. HAPPY ENDING
This is not a great movie. It’s a silly over the top entertaining movie, but it has little wit or imagination. However, like Baaghi 1 before it, it is borrowing from other films that had wit and imagination. What makes the difference in this case is that it is also borrowing from films that had deep themes and emotional meanings to them. The end result is an odd sort of film in which the motions of deeper meaning remain but with no sense of what they are supposed to be.
I’ll start with the Telugu half of it. I haven’t seen the original Telugu film Kshanam, but I can piece together bits of it from what remains here. In the original concept, it dealt with two essential deeply held fears for women. First there is the idea of the child being taken and a desperate need to find her. And second, the idea of being told not to trust your own mind, no one believing you. This is so deeply held that it has popped up in a variety of media besides this film, not because the original movie was inspired by or ripped off another story, but because it hit on that same essential set of fears. I mean, it is popular media that even gives us the term for it, “Gaslighting”.
Bunny Lake is Missing, an old pulp fiction thriller book that was made into a film in the 1960s has the same basic story. In the book, our heroine is an unmarried single mother in 1950s America. She raised her daughter quietly, living in the country and not wanting to advertise her shame. Finally her daughter is old enough to go into daycare and for her mother to get a job, so they move to the city where they know no one and she takes her daughter to day care. And then comes back that night to be told her daughter isn’t there, was never there. The police don’t believe her either, she has no witnesses to prove her daughter existed. She has to hunt for her all by herself while being told she is an “hysterical” woman. There is no vast conspiracy in her case, it is simply society and the fragility of an unmarried mother, she has no witnesses to her daughter because she didn’t want any witnesses. No one believes her because they all automatically discount a woman without a husband. And the school is lying because they want to avoid scandal and see the illegitimate daughter of a single mother as a disposable loss.
In the film version, it is changed slightly. The single mother lives with her brother, the day they arrive in England her daughter goes missing. She goes to the police, but her brother lies and says the daughter never existed, she is crazy. There is an actual villain in this case, a reason that the woman is being lied to and convinced her daughter never existed besides random chance. And it relates to powerlessness of a woman in the face of a male relative, any relative. Her brother’s word is taken over hers by everyone, and she herself is completely reliant on her brother, forced to live with him and off of him instead of breaking free and starting a new life with her daughter.
(Great poster, right? Although I recommend the book a lot more, you can buy it here)
And then in this version, it is changed again, the husband is the one coordinating a massive conspiracy. They didn’t just move to a new place, they have lived their for years, for his plan to work he had to convince all their friends and neighbors that they were doing the right thing in lying to her, that it would be easier for her to think her daughter never existed rather than that she was dead. This time it is the faith that society has in the husband-wife relationship which dooms her. The neighbors, even Tiger, cannot believe that her husband has anything besides her best interests at heart. He tells the neighbors a ridiculous idea, that it is better for her to distrust her own mind than to learn the truth, and they all go along with it. He tells Tiger not to believe her, the woman he loves, and instead to believe this man he has just met. And they all go along with it, because a husband should always be trusted to know what is best for his wife.
The essential concept underlying all of this is that mother’s always know what is best for their children and are rarely believed. And that the disbelief is more damaging than anything else that could happen. A disbelief which is always a risk for a woman in a patriarchal society, but which is especially damaging when it relates to their children.
The outlines of Disha’s character her, the parts that I am sure were related to the Telugu original, really twist the knife in that aspect. We see in the flashback to the college romance that it wasn’t just a love at first sight kind of romance, it was years of wedding parties and surprise birthdays and talking and laughing and really truly knowing each other. She calls on Tiger because he is the one person in her life who knows her, not her father and not her husband, but her. She thought she could trust him to believe her over everyone else. And Tiger betrays that trust, choosing her husband who he just met over her, showing that she truly has no one of her own. That is why she kills herself, because she has realized there is no one in this world who will choose her over all others. She even says it in the college flashback, she is afraid to trust Tiger’s love, and he says over and over again that he will always be there for her. And then, he isn’t. One last betrayal and she cannot live with it.
A better movie would investigate this whole idea, how the distrust of a woman’s word can kill her, and can hide a great evil. But, this is not that movie. This also isn’t the movie that explores the other related aspects, like how Manoj Bajpai is assumed to be the honest cop because he dresses nicely and speaks kindly, while wacky druggie looking Randeep Hooda is distrusted, or how Prateik is thought to be the “bad” brother because he is all violent and crazed while Darshan Kumar is the “good” brother, but in fact they are both equally evil. Instead, it just sort of leaves those elements there as things to amuse us and fill out the plot, but doesn’t bring any meaning to them.
I feel like I can speak to the distrust of a woman’s word and the issues and fears related to that because I am a woman, but the part of the film that I found actually offensive and upsetting is what they did to Rambo. I can get past it, I’m not going to go out and start a protest movement or something, I know this is just a silly pointless fun action movie which won’t do any real damage in the world. But on the other hand, how could they have put in these lines and these moments without understanding what they were supposed to mean?
Rambo has gotten a confused reputation in the years since it first came out. The final action sequences were unlike anything that had ever been done before, and so it was easy to remember those parts of the film. Certainly in its international success, it was those parts that people responded to, the jungle warfare with the big knife and booby traps and so on. And it was those ideas that the sequels expanded on more and more.
But what makes the original film remarkable wasn’t the action scenes, it was the slow build up before them. Rambo was about Vietnam and small town America and PTSD and grief and gun culture and all kinds of things wrapped up together. There were no heroes, just a lot of villains. And it ends with a whimper instead of a bang, someone finally listens to the hero, lets him talk out his grief and loneliness and fear and misery, and that’s all he needed. It’s not a movie about violence, it’s a movie about hating violence, wanting peace and understanding and not being given it. About small people who don’t bother to listen to others, who just see the world the way they want it to be and just see others the way they want them to be. About the need to reach out with love instead of fear.
(This is the hero that is there for most of the film, confused and quiet and drifting through the world)
And then there’s this movie. In which all of the final action scenes are imitated with no meaning. For one thing, Tiger is using jungle warfare techniques, but he is from Kashmir. How does he know jungle warfare? For another, why in the world would Manoj Bajpai have this massive hide out? He’s just a Goa drug dealer! Who does he think is going to attack him? Oh, and why are his guards so aggressive? In the original Rambo, the idea is the traumatized “John Rambo” sees this as war and the enemy as the enemy, while he is fighting part time country deputies and small town hicks who see this as a fun time and a game. It was about military versus civilian and police versus army. But in this film, wouldn’t they all be the same? The professional mercenaries hired by Manoj would see this as a job, just as Tiger does from his army training?
Really though it is all about the PTSD. The entire film establishes that Tiger is cocky and happy in his army life in Kashmir, a patriot who has no fear. His only sadness was his broken heart from the college romance and, later, that Disha had died. So when his Colonel shows up at the end and comforts and embraces him and tells him the war is over, it makes NO SENSE!!!!! Tiger’s character is a typical action hero, he never has weakness or fear, his action scenes at the end are a triumph of his skills and his anger. So, why is he suddenly falling down at the end, sobbing in his Colonel’s arms? It, truly, makes no sense!!!! They should have just not included that scene and that moment from Rambo unless they wanted to set it up properly.
And this isn’t the movie to set it up. Rambo was not a pro-war movie. It is an anti-war movie, an anti-violence movie, it digs into the real never-ending human misery of war. This movie, on the other hand, prefers to take the superficial “Jai Hind” attitude towards everything. To put the deep and meaningful conversation about the costs of violence onto this film is, a little bit, disgusting.
But mostly I don’t mind! This is a fun silly Tiger Shroff movie. It follows the formula of most Tiger Shroff movies, action scene, light romance, big dance number, plot twist, massive ending action sequence. Mix in a legitimately talented and entertaining actor to play the villain (in this case Manoj Bajpai), a worse actor than Tiger to play the heroine (Disha Patani, now that Shraddha has surpassed him in talent), and frame it all with a plot lifted from south India and a final action scene lifted from world cinema. It’s a great formula, that is done almost perfectly here, they knew what they wanted to make and they made it.