June 27, 2014
Sidharth Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor, Riteish Deshmukh, Asif Basra, Kamaal R. Khan (haha, yes it’s true), Shaad Randhawa, Remo Fernandes
Reports are already in that Ek Villain has had an excellent opening at the box-office today. Can’t blame the audience at all – methinks Sidharth Malhotra’s beautiful face is worth the price of not one, but five tickets. Besides, as a gentleman in the multiplex where I watched this film said rather loudly, “Shraddha Kapoor itni cute hai yaar”.
Both stars fare well in this film, but the most striking performance of the lot comes from the actor armed with the most striking character of the trio: Riteish Deshmukh, who continues to do a great disservice to his talent by persistently starring in crass comedies. He is nowhere close to being as menacing or memorable as Prashant Narayanan’s crazed serial killer in director Mohit Suri’s own neatly executed 2011 crime thriller Murder 2, but Riteish in Ek Villain effectively imbues his character with a tricky mix of diffidence and eccentric evil towards the second half.
The film’s trailers are cleverly misleading. The only thing they confirm is that a serial killer is on the prowl in Mumbai, murdering women in gruesome ways. Sidharth plays a powerful gangster’s hitman called Guru, whose troubling past drove him to the underworld in Goa. Guru is a dangerously violent chap, until he meets and falls in love with the perennially optimistic do-gooder Aisha (Shraddha) who is guarding her own little secret. Enter Rakesh (Riteish), a curiously schizophrenic fellow whose penchant for cruelty is masked by his bland exterior.
If you intend to watch Ek Villain, make sure you are in your seat before it starts – the opening scene is crucial to your experience of the film. That being said, the first half is not particularly engaging, and fails to make the lives of the three lead characters worth emotionally investing in. Once the first murder takes place, it raises expectations of a gripping thriller but instead Mohit Suri deliberately decelerates. In addition, there are virtually back-to-back songs that end up over-stretching the romantic scenes, whereas what this film needed was a brisk pace to match the grim atmosphere that the director achieved at the start. Slow motion sequences and lots of close-ups of Sidharth and Shraddha’s faces are used to remind us how likeable and sweet-looking they are and how in love. Hey, we figured that out pretty quickly. C’mon on now, move on!
It is Ek Villain’s good fortune that the second half is the better half of the film. In particular through the entire flashback that takes us back to that first murder, I found myself suddenly involved in the lives of Guru, Aisha and Rakesh, and unexpectedly discovering tears in my eyes. Oh that phone call from a woman who doesn’t know she’s about to die! And that plea she makes for the reason why she wants to live! Both really got me.
There are rumours floating around that Ek Villain is a copy of a Korean film. I’ve not seen the reported original so I can’t confirm the allegation. Once trust is broken though, it’s hard to restore, and I can’t help but remember a long interview I did with Mohit for my book The Adventures Of An Intrepid Film Critic during which he insisted that Murder 2 is NOT a copy of the South Korean film The Chaser although I’d told him upfront that I’d seen the original and agree with the accusation. I ultimately didn’t mention this part of our discussion in The Adventures… since it was not relevant to the theme of the book, but my point is, this is a talented film maker who owes it to himself to win the trust of viewers to whom integrity matters.
We’ve already discussed Riteish’s performance in Ek Villain. Two supporting cast members merit a mention: the lovely Asif Basra as Aisha’s dad, and the child actor playing Rakesh’s kid. The director also effectively harnesses Kamaal R. Khan’s creepy off-screen aura here for his role as a wife-beating misogynist. Once she gets past her initial self-conscious cutesiness in the film, Shraddha shows the same acting chops that were evident in both Luv Ka The End – her first film as a leading lady – and last year’s runaway hit Aashiqui 2 which was also directed by Mohit. Let’s forget the poor kid was in that non-film Teen Patti. Aisha’s encounter with Rakesh could easily have been over-done, but in Shraddha’s eyes we get genuine pain, not melodrama. Unfortunately for her, people like Aisha are a Bollywood cliche, bubbly, ever-smiling, determined not to focus on the personal tragedy behind the façade and sometimes – as in this case – boringly flawless. She also spouts some cheesy philosophical lines. Sidharth, for his part, has a wonderfully sensitive face. In a career spanning just three films (this included), we’ve already seen those eyes tellingly convey hurt, love, affection, amusement and anger. What they haven’t managed yet though is to cross the line from anger to murderous fury, the kind of fury that we’re told Guru feels before he meets Aisha, though we don’t see it in Sidharth’s face.
This is a minor problem compared to the film’s lackadaisical pre-interval pace and use of music. Post-interval though, the songs are more intelligently deployed: a surprisingly soft nightclub number featuring Prachi Desai matches the brooding mood of the film at that point, a contrast to the jaunty – sometimes incongruous – insertions that club songs usually are in Bollywood; the song accompanying the closing credits (Galiyaan, which is the pick of the pleasant-though-not-compelling soundtrack) actually takes forward the poignancy of the story, instead of being one of those standard peppy numbers totally disconnected from the goings-on preceding the rolls.
Apart from a more consistent pace, Ek Villain also needed more detailing and more depth in its characterisation. As an American crime and legal teleserial junkie, I found myself longing for the writers of Criminal Minds and Law and Order: Criminal Intent to have a go at the profiles of both Guru and Rakesh. They’re interesting men who could have been so much more. Without that depth, Ek Villain is a reasonably entertaining but forgettable film.
Rating (out of five stars): **1/4 stars
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ekvillain