Saturday, May 4, 2013


Release date:
May 3, 2013
Sanjay Gupta


John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Kangna Ranaut, Ronit Roy, Sonu Sood, Manoj Bajpayee, Mahesh Manjrekar. Appearances by Soni Razdan, Ranjeet, Sunny Leone, Priyanka Chopra, Sophie Choudry

At one level, Shootout At Wadala is about how a single act of violence can lead to an endless cycle of bloodletting… Nice, but not new in Bollywood, remember? There’s more though. SAW is the story of a gangster’s son who wants to lead an upright life, but is ruined by a corrupt, sold-out system and one policeman’s refusal to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Based on journalist S. Hussain Zaidi’s book Dongri To Dubai: Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia, the film is about Manohar a.ka. Manya Surve (John Abraham), a dreaded Mumbai don in the 1970s, said to have been the city’s first Hindu ganglord and an educated one at that. Manya of the film is so straight-laced that he won’t cheat in an exam even to help his girlfriend Vidya (Kangna Ranaut). One day, when he is caught in the crossfire between his gangster step-brother and an arch enemy, the police arrest both siblings, ignoring Manya’s pleas of innocence. The young man has just taken his college exams but is so embittered by that experience (a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit) that he turns his back on Vidya, a much-loved mother and the life he’d planned for himself. The year: 1970. The police are battling legendary gangster Haji Mastan when Manya enters the picture. His story (all the way up to a historic real-life police encounter in 1982) is told in flashback through a conversation between him and his bête noir, Inspector Afaaque Baagraan (Anil Kapoor).

My confusion about SAW stems from its schizophrenic gender politics. An “item” song in the film with porn star Sunny Leone features perhaps the most vulgar dance moves we’ve seen in a Hindi film. Sunny (as a sex worker) heaves her humungous, near-bare breasts and thrusts her hips back and forth before the camera with her legs spread out suggestively throughout Laila teri le legi; at one point Manya wraps the girl’s legs around his gyrating hips, as if riding a horse. Whoa! Step aside Mallika Sherawat and Rakhi Sawant! Sunny and John are here!

To be fair though, the song and its lewdness do have a context – realistically speaking, would the real Manya and his favoured prostitutes have bothered with aesthetics? Unlikely. Besides, if this song bows to the male gaze then in later reels SAW acknowledges the female gaze too when a shirtless Manya races through the streets of Mumbai. There is no excuse of context here. This is clearly director Sanjay Gupta’s way of compensating us ladies for patiently sitting through the objectification of Sunny Leone by now objectifying John Abraham for us. Did the real Manya ever charge towards rival gangsters with his top off? No idea. But if there’s a lady in the audience who’s complaining, please raise your hand so that we can deport you?

Then again there’s Babli badmaash hai featuring Priyanka Chopra. It’s interesting that when the “item” girl is a mainstream actress the choreography becomes more sophisticated. Besides, the lyrics – Dil pardaafaash hai / Neeyat aiyyaash hai / Na ban shareef tu / Babli badmaash hai (My heart is bare, my intentions are unbridled, don’t be coy when Babli is a rascal) – place the power in the hands of the woman. The song comes from a sexually assertive woman, unlike Kareena Kapoor’s Main toh tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkaale saiyya alcohol se (I’m a tandoori chicken, consume me with alcohol) from last year’s Dabangg 2 which dehumanised the woman and reduced her to a passive object in the hands of the leering men around her.

Interestingly too, SAW features a scene in which Manya and his sidekick Munir (Tusshar Kapoor) actually stand up for the right of a sex worker to say no. When a visitor to the brothel says, Mandi mein randi ki marzi nahin chalti, Manya replies that every woman always has the choice to say no, even if that woman is a prostitute. Full marks to you here, Sanjay Gupta!

But hold on… What kind of schizophrenic film follows up such path-breaking dialogues with a scene where that same Munir rattles off the work he can do for a don, “rape bhi, agar item acchhi hai toh (I’ll rape too, if the woman is hot)”? You may argue that this is a realistic scenario; that a gangster is likely to mouth such words. Two objections milord: (1) This is inconsistent characterisation. Munir of the previous scene does not come across as a guy who’d make a repulsive rape joke; (2) That the film maker intended us to laugh at this comment is clear from the character to whom he assigned the line – Munir is Manya’s sidekick and a bit of a comedian who is lampooned by fellow gang members throughout; and the line is uttered here not matter-of-factly but in a half jestful tone. Oh no, no excuses! For shame, Sanjay Gupta!

Sadly, there comes another scene in which traditional notions of macho-ness and mardaangi are underlined when a policeman says, even a eunuch begins to consider himself a man if you put a gun in his hands. And later, a disturbing sex scene which begins with Manya getting violent with Vidya – he tears at her lips with his teeth and rips her blouse even as she repeatedly says no, no, no…but then, she lovingly melts into his arms, thus perpetuating a notion that Bollywood strongly advocated particularly through the 1970s and ’80s: that when a woman says no she means maybe, when she says maybe she means yes. So was that scene in the mandi thrown in merely to be politically correct? This is both confusing and disturbing.

Yet there is much to recommend in SAW: moving story, sharp dialogues (when not gender prejudiced), neat camerawork and production design, slick action (if you can handle the extreme violence: chopped arms, a man thrown on a bed of firecrackers, etc), top-notch acting. John manages to hold his own against a bunch of first-rate talents and Kangna is back to being the actress who held out so much promise in her early films. But the stand-out performances come from the ever-natural Anil Kapoor (who we hope will never again accept a film like Race 2) and Manoj Bajpayee as Manya’s rival in crime. The background score, drawn from the tune of Babli, is excellent. The song Ae Manya, Manya sun is lovely but John’s facial expressions bely the sadness of the previous scene. This is the problem with all the numbers (the rest are not even as musically alluring)…they arrive abruptly, with no connection to the mood of the preceding scene. It’s as if songs were randomly chucked into the film as an afterthought.

Shootout At Wadala has clearly fictionalised parts of Manya’s life, especially when he crosses paths with the characters modelled on Dawood Ibrahim and his brother (played by Bajpayee and Sonu Sood). Flawed though it may be, the film is entertaining and moving for the most part. The poignancy peaks when Manya’s marks from his college exams are flashed on screen in the end. The waste of a life filled with so much potential is heart-wrenching, to say the least.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
150 minutes


  1. So Shoot out at Wadala gets a better rating than Bombay Talkies ? hmmm.

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