May 1, 2015
Akshay Kumar, Shruti Haasan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Suman Talwar, Sunil Grover
It's the loudest Hindi film to come to theatres in a while. That’s saying a lot considering the decibels we were subjected to in Akshay Kumar’s last film, Entertainment.
EVERYONE in Gabbar Is Back seems to be shouting. The hero – college lecturer Aditya a.k.a. Gabbar (Akshay) – shouts at the world. The senior policemen assigned to find him shout at a subordinate. Their junior (Sunil Grover) who’s been at the receiving end of their yelling, finally shouts back at them. CBI officer Kuldeep Pahwa (Jaideep Ahlawat) starts shouting the moment he takes over the case. And the villain, a corrupt industrialist called Digvijay Patil (Suman Talwar), repeatedly shouts out this line: “Digvijay Patil, yeh sirf naam nahin, brand hai!”
Here’s how the mayhem begins. A bunch of tehsildars across Maharashtra are abducted and the body of one is found hanging in a public place. A CD is sent to the police and media explaining that these men were all corrupt, with the dead guy being the numero uno crook of the lot. A faceless person called Gabbar claims responsibility for the abductions and murder. Look out for more kidnappings of those who are tasked with serving the public but exploit us instead, he says.
The Maharashtra police, netas and janta gradually learn what has been revealed to us viewers from the start: that Gabbar is Aditya. As the film rolls along, we discover the sad back story that turned Adi into a raging vigilante.
In the middle of all this activity, Adi finds the time to romance the lawyer Shruti (Shruti Haasan), in keeping with the formulaic demand for a live woman whose sole job it is to look pretty and fall in love with the hero. It goes without saying that Shruti is given even less importance in the script than the Vice President of India gets in Indian politics.
Gabbar Is Back is a Bollywood remake of the 2002 Tamil hit Ramaana. It was directed by A.R. Murugadoss who is credited in GIB for the story. A major Tamil film maker, Murugadoss is best known to Bollywood viewers as the director of the Aamir Khan-Asin-starrer Ghajini, a remake of his own Tamil hit of the same name. Last year he teamed up with Akshay to helm Holiday, a remake of his Thuppakki. The decline in quality from Ghajini to Holiday to GIB has been steady. Krish – who directs GIB – does nothing to lift Murugadoss’ cliched story out of its mediocrity.
WARNING: SPOILER IN NEXT PARAGRAPH:
The vigilante has been a frequent hero in Hindi films. Unlike the populist A Wednesday, which disguised its anarchist agenda with smooth writing, GIB flaunts its intentions on its crudely designed sleeve. It clearly hopes to cash in on mass frustration with corruption by virtually calling upon the public to inflict violence on dishonest babus and businesspersons. However, in a bid to pre-empt criticism that the film is playing to the gallery, Gabbar delivers a speech in the end explaining that though what he did was right, the means he chose were wrong.
The film is conflicted about its commitment to its grave tone: after over 2 hours of rage, tears, blood and sermons, a character who is about to be hanged signs off with a joke involving the iconic Gabbar Singh from the 1970s classic Sholay, even as his head is being stuck in the noose.
In recent years, Hindi remakes of loud Tamil and Telugu potboilers have become a genre unto themselves. These films usually star Salman Khan or Akshay in the lead, with a woman – usually Sonakshi Sinha or some other dispensable actress 15-20 years younger than the hero – playing a decorative item. It’s a mystery why these male stars want to act with such junior women. In GIB in particular, the camera angles deployed by DoP Nirav Shah for 47-year-old Akshay’s close-ups further emphasise his real age. As a result, Kareena Kapoor Khan – in a cameo – and Shruti Haasan in the present both look like they’re having affairs with their Daddy in GIB.
In case you are left with any doubt that women are treated lightly by such films, please google the song Aao raja which features Chitrangda Singh in a guest appearance. “Kundi mat khadkao raja / Seedha andar aao raja (loosely translated: Don’t knock on the door, darling / Come right in darling),” she sings as she turns her back to the camera, places a hand on each buttock, swings her hips and slaps her bottom suggestively. What a fall for a woman who was hailed as “the next Smita Patil” when she made her debut in Hazaaron Kwaishein Aisi in 2003!
What a fall too for Akshay who insists on frittering away his charisma. At his best, he is capable of excellent comic timing (Namastey London), charming goofiness (Singh Is Kinng), under-statement (Special 26) and a smooth funny-fresh-serious blend (OMG). Not in this film.
Gabbar Is Back is rife with cliches. Foremost among them is the heroine’s unfair, inexplicable rudeness to the hero when they first meet. Why is this a feature of so many mainstream Indian films? It’s as if the writers think that conflict (usually initiated by the woman) is an essential starting point for romance, so that when she does inevitably fall in love with the hero, it can be portrayed almost as a ‘taming of the shrew’ by him to gratify the male-dominated audience.
Another cliché is that signature lines or quirks are assigned to each character. Like the villain’s persistent claims of being a “brand”, Shruti responds to most questions with, “According to google…” in a wannabe-bubbly tone. Adi keeps ominously saying, “I hate sorrys.” And the bad guy tries to rival 1970s/’80s Bollywood-stye dialoguebaazi with lines like, “Jo mere kaam ka nahin, uska iss duniya mein koi kaam nahin.” Someone on Team GIB was clearly trying to come up with an equivalent of Akshay’s “don’t angry me” from Rowdy Rathore or Salman’s “ek baar jo maine commitment ki…” from Wanted. You need better writing and overall packaging to pull off unapologetic nonsense. GIB falls flat on its face.
Even the choice of title is a gimmick. The film has no logical connection with Gabbar or Sholay although it does recycle a couple of his lines. Is the title a profound metaphor or just an excuse for the marketing punchline, “Naam villain ka, kaam hero ka”? Don’t know. Don’t care.
Gabbar Is Back. Wish he had stayed away.
Rating (out of five): *
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabbar_is_Back