Woot, part 2! For those of you haven’t read one of these before, I am writing this entirely based on memory. So I am gonna make mistakes, but I’m also gonna be doing way better than seems reasonable. It’s a curse, this is why I never get to enjoy re-watching movies, because I have the whole thing recorded in my brain already.
The last section ended with the Hero Intro, a half drunk fight with multiple opponents in the wrestling ring and his foster brother gathers bets in the stands. And once the hero is introduced, time to get to know the Villains more!
I am fascinated by how class is/isn’t an issue in this movie. It feels very feudal. As in, the top and bottom of society are living right next to each other in every way. The royal Natt family is sitting there in a stone building with fire heat and cotton/linen robes and shawls. It’s a bigger stone building, and they have more robes and shawls, but otherwise it’s the same clothes and building and food and so on. Does that make sense? It’s refreshing really after all the crazy Bhansali stuff with insane palaces and invisible peasants.
Anyhoo, the Bad Guy Debate is about who is going to be the new leader of the clan. The current leader is too old to keep leading, and his sons are not in agreement as to who should take over, so the council of leaders is suggesting a different young man who has all the skills and abilities required. Very cool, it’s a semi-democratic decision, and it’s based on ability not simply age order or even parentage. The only thing that is still limiting merit is gender. And this scene immediately undercuts even that by having Dora, the leaders only daughter, show up and behead the candidate to maintain the power of her family. Awesome beheading too, you get the whole neck with blood squirting out effect and all of that.
This whole conversation is to set up the plot point that there is a psycho brother who is weak and mad and bad, and then the other “better” brother who has exiled himself in a prison until he is ready to come back and lead the clan. Oh, and the awesome sister who is allied with the “better” brother and trying to protect his interests while he is gone. Weirdly reminded me of the plot of Ponniyin Selvan, but I guess that is just the universal elements of royal families? If there are two sons, they will be set against each other. And if there is also a daughter, as a woman she will have to chose one brother over the other.
Still a pretty blah-blah scene, lots of talky talky and trying to remember character names. Followed by another blah-blah scene actually, a Prison fight that has no blood or lighting, and therefore I find dull. But, intro of the Big Bad! Apparently he has exiled himself in prison because he is looking for an opponent who can draw his blood in a fight and heard that the worst of the worst are in this prison. Which means no blood in the fight (booo!) because the whole point is no one draws his blood. And also everyone’s in the same clothes and it’s just boring stone and chains and blech. Prison fights are the WORST.
Thank goodness, mixed in with these boring scenes are cute hero/brother/romance scenes. I can’t remember what the order is exactly, so I’m just gonna describe all the fun scenes after all the dull scenes. I know the fun scenes are here, because they come right after Fawad’s hero intro when he defeats a bunch of people and makes a lot of money in the wrestling ring.
Next time we see him, he is in the local restaurant/bar drinking steadily and silently while his foster brother counts their money. Love love love this foster brother relationship by the way. I kept waiting for it to go bad, jealousy in childhood, or then the foster brother is just using him for his fighting abilities and stealing money from him. But nope! Foster brother is counting money and trying to cheer up Fawad like a brother would. Fawad’s all dark and sexy and drinking. This bar/restaurant is very confusing to me also. Seems to be the only bar/restaurant in the village, which is either too many bar/restaurants (why not just eat at home?) or too few (the wrestling pit/carnival is supposed to be a big success). Anyhoo, we are drinking and sulking in the restaurant. Several women start making eyes at Fawad, and his foster brother goes over to flirt with them. Very cool, mixing genders in public spaces, and foster brother is flirting in a normal non-creepy way while letting Fawad be one.
Fawad is alone when the little boy pops up to clear the table and asks him how he can fight like him, and Fawad says “just stop being afraid”. Great mission statement for the movie, all the stupid villagers are always afraid of everything, and they are the ones with the power of numbers and strength and everything. It’s just fear keeping them down. Stupid villagers.
And then a bunch of Natt goons arrive to take “protection” money. I’m still trying to pin down the vibe of this movie, which seems to be a combo of a bunch of different power situations. This scene feels like gangsters coming into the neighborhood, and I that kind of made it click into place for me. There’s the Real Authorities, some distant royalty or something who seem to be running the jail. And then there’s the local rules, people pay for the carnival and the bar/restaurant and seem to have some general accepted rules. But between the community working together, and the royals off in the distance, there is the gap where might makes right. Exactly the same as urban working class neighborhoods with gangsters!!!! The elites don’t care, the working classes take care of each other, but then the bullies come in and you either have to fight back or give up, there’s no one who’s going to come in and save you. I’m not as used to that in South Asian film, because I’m used to the Noble Landowner who is in charge by default, instead of all these equals waiting to rise based on merit, or being too afraid to fight back and losing.
In that context, this is a classic scene. The goons show up and threaten the Noble Store Owner, his Virtious Daughter, and Angry Young Son. In the middle of the argument, Fawad starts loudly tapping on the table with his coin which draws the attention of the goons. Lovely double meaning there, making noise to get them to look at him and highlighting that if all the want is money, he has more of it than the bar owner. But before it can turn into a fight, Foster Brother shows up and talks fast and drags Fawad away, reminding him that he promised their mother he would only fight in the arena.
So now we know Fawad wants to fight and defend but is held back by a promise, his foster brother truly loves him and will rush into danger to drag him out, and the goons pretend to show up for money but really just want the power because they are Bad. Very fun tidy quick scene to establish all of that.
Followed by a SUPER fun Fawad-Mahira scene. Fawad is asleep, drunk, on the street (implication being after he failed to fight at the bar, he had to drink to forget). Mahira runs by chased by 3 men calling for help. Fawad doesn’t look up. Mahira stops and so do the men, she goes back to yell at Fawad that she just wants a little attention from him, for him to forget his anger and see her for just a second. Kicks Fawad, then goes back to the 3 men and yells at them that they weren’t believable and she doesn’t want to pay them for fake-chasing her. The men start to threaten her and Mahira knees the leader in the groin then turns away in disgust. To find Fawad standing inches behind her, his face right next to hers.
Excellent sequence! We see that Mahira is smart and tricky and can take care of herself, we have an acknowledgement that it is not lack of interest in Mahira that keeps Fawad away but rather lack of interest in all women, and we end with the AWESOME message that as soon as Mahira was really in trouble, Fawad in seconds got himself undrunk and right there. So he may pretend not to care, but he actually really really does. Oh, and now we have SMOKING HOT Mahira and Fawad with their lips inches from touching and the camera right up there in their faces.
There’s some talky-talky and then Mahira goes for the kiss and Fawad does the fake out at the last minute and turns his mouth to take another drink of wine and strolls away. So so so so good! It’s the classic stalker flirtation, but with the genders reversed. Mahira is the passionate one who chases, Fawad is the one who pretends he doesn’t want it but really does for complicated reasons. Also, did I mention sexy?
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Fawad says to the boy, “Embrace death and overcome your fear.” That was a super tropey scene, you’re correct. Really the whole movie is going for epic epic epic, every line felt like it was reaching for iconic. I didn’t mind, though, because the actors made it fun. The other people in the movie theater, when they made noise it was most often laughing, but laughing with the movie not at it.
I was explaining the arc of a villagers vs. powerful story to the boys coming home because it was such a classic example and I realized they haven’t seen many of those. They’re out of fashion in the west at the moment, no westerns lately, and it’s not a common superhero plotline. In martial arts movies, on the other hand, one of the most common stories.
Anyway, I think it went: festival fight scene, first baddies at the restaurant scene where the brother drags him away, love scene in the alley (wow, Mahira doesn’t have a ton of shared screen time to work with in this role, they lean heavily on their existing chemistry, but it is strong), power struggle at the Natt stronghold with Daro decapitating the pretender, prison scene where we meet ultimate baddie Noori Natt and establish that he is looking for a worthy adversary, then family scene with Maula and his brother and mother where we hear about the secret past they’ve been keeping from him, then the second festival fight scene, where drunk Maula is first visited by the old dude who tells him to go to the ruined fort at sunset to learn all the secrets, then loses his first fight (because drunkenness fueled by pent up secrets) and is only saved by the brother jumping down into the pit and shielding Maula’s body with his own.
The Fawad-Mahira chemistry is SO strong! We can see why she is determined to hang on for this unpleasant drunkard, and why he immediately gives in and goes for her as soon as he has resolved his Angst.
Can we talk about the Angst? he’s just so ANGSTY. And I don’t even know why. His life is great! But, I also enjoy the whole drunk dirty hair and beard angst vibe.
It’s true, he’s super angsty. I just accepted it because it is nice to look at. Thinking about it, part of it feels like Hulk or Wolverine syndrome – if you have a character who’s super good at fighting, it has to be because he’s fought a lot, which means he has to be carrying rage beyond the normal human level. Part of it feels like it serves the plot of the hero who is the first one in a generation to stand up to the bad guys, which also implies rage/angst beyond the average human. And part of it is maybe an acting choice by Fawad to give the character emotional heft when he didn’t have a lot of dialogue or exposition to develop?