Saturday, August 27, 2016


Release date:
Kerala: August 12, 2016. Delhi: August 26 
Sajid Yahiya

Jayasurya, Sshivada, Sunil Sukhada, Molly Kannamaly, Saiju Kurup, Joju George, Yog Japee

Imagine a little kid born in Kerala being named Dawood Ibrahim by his parents. Life for him would perhaps be even more challenging than it was for an African-American with the middle name Hussein and a surname that rhymes with Osama in post-9/11 America.

Little Dawood Ibrahim of our story grows up to be a policeman and is sent off to Kollanahalli village on the Kerala-Karnataka border. It is the kind of posting assigned to no-gooders, not to a promising new entrant. The police station in Kollanahalli is dilapidated, the facilities there so unused that when a phone rings for the first time in years, the lizard that had made the instrument its home is startled. Nothing but petty crime – goat and chicken thefts – take place in this outback of God’s Own Country, and all scores are settled by and within the community. That is, until Inspector Dawood Ibrahim takes matters into his own hands.

Whatever it is you think happens next, you are wrong. The opening scenes of debutant writer-director Sajid Yahiya’s Inspector Dawood Ibrahim imply that we are in for a hardcore masala film with an invincible cop at the helm, Jayasurya doing a Suriya in Singham style, complete with slow-mo, swagger and a signature song. Wrong again.

Inspector Dawood Ibrahim (abbreviated in the title to IDI, which is also the Malayalam word for a blow/punch) is a clever spoof on regular commercial cop dramas – clever, because it is designed to please consumers of unabashedly massy fare as much as those who are cynical about such content. And so, it features plenty of biff, boom, bang, loud music and dialoguebaazi, but each time you think it is about to fall into a formulaic rut, each time you wonder if it has begun to take itself seriously, it turns around and laughs at itself in the face.

It takes a while for the film to reveal its intentions, but once it does IDI is a fun ride right down to the sidesplitting ending. Note of caution: you had better stay glued to the screen in the climactic fight, because if you miss that split-second flash of a throne turning to something else and then back, you may miss the realisation that at this point too, nothing may be what it seems. 

Jayasurya, who is currently also in theatres with the comparatively insipid Pretham, is a joy to watch as a policeman whose circumstances are scoffing at him. It is always nice to see such a major star in self-deprecating mode. In this particular instance, the star is taking the mickey out of not just his own role or his own film, but all commercial police films across Indian industries. He embodies the film’s Dawood: striking, good-looking, perfectly suited to those low-angle shots that build him up as an imposing figure, filled with hopes of vanquishing villains to a resounding background score, only to realise that real life is not a mainstream Indian movie.

The rest of the cast do precisely what they are required to do: Yog Japee as the international don Akbar Ali and Saiju Kurup as the crook operating in Mangalore overact appropriately. Joju George as the local petty criminal Vasu is by turns fearsome and fearful. Sunil Sukhada and Molly Kannamaly cracked me up in their roles as Dawood’s sidekicks Kuttanpilla and Angel Mary. Thanks to them, never again will I be able to see an incoming call from an “unknown caller” on my phone without doubling up with laughter. Yes it is true that their looks are used here as metaphors for the decrepit Kollanahalli police station, but to be fair, IDI does not pick on anyone in particular, it picks on everyone. If you must be non-PC, this is how you do it.

IDI’s dialogue writing by Arouz Irfan (who co-wrote the screenplay with Yahiya) is smart and cocks a snook at so many clichés. Even the smattering of potty jokes are bearable because the film never lets up on its self-effacing tone. I am not sure the English lines dished out by Akbar Ali were intentionally awkward, but wittingly or unwittingly they have ended up matching his wannabe-grandiose character. 

There are plenty of plot points that can be viewed as weak links in IDI, including the ludicrous implausibility of a gangster sought after by Interpol deciding to personally respond to a summons of sorts by an unknown cop in a deserted outpost, yet it works. Because every apparent weak link could also be explained away as an attempt to underline the inherent stupidity in most commercial films about police and undercover spies that we are willing to buy into when the film effectively compels us to suspend disbelief. I mean, c’mon, we’ve bought into the efficacy of Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt’s many disguises in the Mission Impossible series, we have willingly swallowed Bruce Willis/John McClane’s physical indestructibility in the Die Hard series, so why would we not accept the probability of a wanted criminal being an idiot or the possibility that a policeman may indeed only always blink in slow motion? And why would we not believe that there is no weapon more lethal in this world than a Malayali man’s mundu?

The film’s major failing is its extreme male-centricity, extreme even by the low gender-related standards of commercial Indian cinema. Ninety per cent of the scenes in IDI do not feature even a female extra? Sshivada plays a spunky IIM-Ahmedabad graduate called Nithya Niranjan who bases herself in Kollanahalli because she wants to make a difference. That one scene in which she bashes up two cowering crooks is enough proof of the actress’ and the character’s potential to elevate IDI, yet Yahiya uses her as the only thing heroines are meant to be when seen through a blinkered male gaze: the hero’s ‘love interest’. Even that angle gets short shrift.

Crime and cop flicks tend to be male-centric, but some of the best of the lot – the ones that have risen above the formulae this film is parodying – have given women substantial, even if not primary, roles. What would the Suriya-starrer Kaakha Kaakha have been without Jyothika and the character she played? Would Ghajini (the original Tamil version with Suriya or the Hindi remake with Aamir Khan) have been the same without the depth and space given to Asin’s character? Women are not mere asides to be loved or lamented you know, Mr Yahiya. Obviously this is a potential element lost to IDI.

The film’s production design by Rajeev Kovilakam and cinematography by Sujith Sarang are effective. Sarang, for one, manages to successfully convey the desolation of Kollanahalli within picturesque surroundings. Dawood’s booming theme music by Rahul Raj is in keeping with the mood of the film, but none of the songs is memorable.

For the most part though, Inspector Dawood Ibrahim is an interesting police flick, a hysterical spoof of the genre and of itself. Even its over-the-top-ness is a mockery of over-the-topness. The pride and flourish with which the protagonist refers to the Kerala Police is a reminder of the parochialism, regionalism and nationalism often summoned up to earn wolf whistles in films of this genre. Remember the repeated referencing of Marathi pride in the Hindi version of Singham starring Ajay Devgn? Know this from IDI: you can bash up a Kerala policeman, bring him to his knees, abduct the father he loves and terrorise the old man, but God forbid that you should insult his uniform. Hell hath no fury like a Malayali cop whose khaki topi you are about to step on.

Of course it is all very silly and OTT. It is thoroughly entertaining though because it does not pretend to be anything but that, because it manages to not be condescending at any point, and most of all because within the realm of silliness it does not insult our intelligence.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
128 minutes

Censorship footnote: Although there are plenty of fisticuffs in Inspector Dawood Ibrahim, the camera does not show us much blood. The only disturbing shot in the film is of a man running a pencil through a person’s head, in through one ear and out of the other. This is the sort of scene for which the US ratings agency CARA would have perhaps rated a film PG, which signifies that parents may possibly want to check out a film before taking their children to see it. PG is a relatively mild rating, yet not the most lenient of them all, which is G indicating suitability for general viewing across age groups. India’s Central Board of Film Certification is known to be open to children viewing violence but not even an allusion to sex. The makers of IDI know this, which is why they have voluntarily beeped out the word “motherfucker” in a conversation without being asked to do so. The result: this film has been rated U (suited for universal viewing, the Indian equivalent of G) despite the pencil-through-the-head-of-a-human-being scene which should have earned it a UA, the Indian equivalent of PG. The only change the Board demanded was the removal of a shot of a man licking blood, which has been replaced in the film with a shot of some hooligans.

A version of this review has been published on Firstpost:

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Release date:
August 25, 2016
Remo D’souza

Tiger Shroff, Amrita Singh, Jacqueline Fernandez, Kay Kay Menon, Nathan Jones

In a scene exemplifying the worst and best of the deliciously named A Flying Jatt, our costumed Punjabi superhero lands up at an airport to thwart a terror attack. We already know that he can move at the speed of lightning. Here in the midst of scared passengers and gun-toting villains, he is so fast that the rest of the world appears to freeze in that moment as he snatches weapons away from the bad guys, adjusts people around and fixes the situation so that those goons literally fall at the feet of the police when he is done.

It is all very funny and well-choreographed. Sadly, it is also terribly familiar. All that is missing is the Eurythmics song Sweet dreams are made of this in the background. But for that musical accompaniment, writer-director Remo D’souza has shamelessly copied the entire concept of the scene from the one that so recently made Quicksilver an iconic player in the X-Men film series.

D’souza gives us no indicator that this was intended as a tribute. Besides, “tribute” would be too convenient an umbrella to hide beneath, considering that so much of his film is borrowed from American superhero flicks.

As it happens, in the superhero aspects of his story, he falters wherever he is not lifting ideas: and so Flying Jatt temporarily loses his powers and self-healing ability, but we never find out why; we are not told either how the supervillain Raka gained his powers – he simply lay in toxic waste for several days and developed his invincibility. You and I would die in similar circumstances, how did he not? Not even a semblance of semi-convincing scientific or mythological mumbo-jumbo is offered as explanation.

There is a well-thought-out twist though in the matter of how Raka retains his strength: he feeds on pollutants, wilting when the air is clean but revving up when he takes in toxins – neat way of talking to kids about environmental issues.

A Flying Jatt’s plagiarism, not-so-hot SFX and patchy production design give it an air of tackiness, yet it cannot be written off. The film is delightful early on when it is laughing at itself and the superhero genre. The scenes in which the protagonist and his family first discover his powers are hysterical, especially his confusion about what the hell is now expected of him. There are plenty of other comedic interludes that make this an interesting experiment in a genre rarely visited by Bollywood that has earned Hollywood billions worldwide.

The story revolves around Mrs Dhillon (Amrita Singh) and her son Aman (Tiger Shroff), a martial arts instructor who is afraid of heights and dogs, and is often the butt of pranks in the school where he teaches. The industrialist Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon) runs factories that are ruining the air and water in the vicinity. Mrs D stands up to him when he demands to buy land belonging to her and her neighbours, including a patch on which stands a sacred tree.

Publicity shot of Nathan Jones with
Tiger Shroff and Remo D'souza
Not long afterwards, we meet Malhotra’s hired goon Raka, a mountainous fellow played by WWA and WWE wrestler Nathan Jones. When Aman and Raka clash one stormy night, an episode combining lightning and an ode to the Sikh religion end up giving Aman his Superman-like strength, his Spidey sense, the gift of flight plus the ability to absorb knowledge and skills at an incredible pace. Since he must remain incognito, Aman takes on the moniker Flying Jatt for his superhero avatar.

Also in the picture is Aman’s colleague, the schoolteacher Kirti (Jacqueline Fernandez), who is the film’s designated female-person-for-the-hero-to-fall-in-love-with.

Woven into the film’s overt messaging about environmental pollution is a running tribute to the Sikh community. That element is a mixed bag. I mean, I love that Mrs D skewers idiots who mindlessly mouth the cliché “Sardarji ke baarah baj gaye”. Seriously, community-directed humour is fine, but not when used unrelentingly in personal interactions. Imagine being Sikh, Irish or Polish. How do you admit that you are bored to death with Sardar, Irishman or Pole jokes or even hurt by the non-stop lampooning, without being accused of over-sensitivity, that too by people who would not take even half a wisecrack about themselves or their communities?

That said, A Flying Jatt misses the opportunity here to graduate from being a comedy with lessons thrown in for very very little kids, to a children’s film with the sort of adult depth that is a hallmark of some of the most significant works in this genre. The bow to Sikhs turns treacly and in-your-face populist beyond a point, and there is no discussion apart from the obvious about the beautiful symbolism of the turban. At a time when the entire world is blithely discussing Islamic dress, we are still fearful of raising questions regarding public displays of religion by other major faiths. Why?

D’souza might well argue that India, with its many violence-prone religious representatives, is hardly the place for such a discourse. Every place ought to be the right place for intelligent, prejudice-free debate and we cannot all be waiting for someone else to bell the cat. As a children’s film then, A Flying Jatt is impactful. As entertainment for grown-ups, it is limited.

That said, just a week after Happy Bhag Jayegi, it is good to see Bollywood once again giving us a film about Punjab-based Punjabis shorn of the usual stereotypes about the community.

Tiger Shroff’s performance and screen persona in this film are no different from Heropanti and Baaghi. It is hard to dislike him. He has the sweetest of smiles, there is a dancerly grace to all his movements and he even fights with elegance. However, his Caucasian features make him a misfit in the worlds he has visited in his three films so far and he is too camera conscious when not dancing or throwing punches. It is his good fortune that he comes across as a really nice guy, so that you almost want to forgive him his strained acting here in A Flying Jatt.

Amrita Singh, who was so good playing a baddie in Aurangzeb, overacts in a couple of scenes in this film, but for the most part is relaxed and convincing. She is really pleasant to watch when she lets her hair down in the comic scenes.

The often superb Kay Kay Menon though, lays it on too thick to convey his evil intentions. The thing about artistes like him is that you have to console yourself by imagining that they are well aware of their hamming, because they are so darned good when they are not.

In Dishoom Jacqueline Fernandez gave us glimpses of what she might be when she is treated as more than a showpiece. She is back to the dolly routine in A Flying Jatt, playing a bespectacled Barbie with constantly widened eyes, who does not speak, but squeaks. She comes into her own only while dancing to Beat pe booty. But c’mon Ms, you are more than just your booty.

The production design is inconsistent. Most of the settings look fake while trying to convince us they are not. The fantasy sequence featuring the song Toota jo kabhi tara works because it is deliberately faux and looks prettily fairytale-like as a result, straight out of a Disney animation film. I also enjoyed the ballet-like choreography in that scene.

Large parts of A Flying Jatt are unoriginal and tacky, right down to that well-intentioned yet poorly composed sentence flashing on screen right in the end and credited to Remo: “Everything has an alternative except Mother Earth.” The film’s comedy, occasional inventiveness and aura of innocence are what make it effective in its own way, despite the lack of depth.

D’souza had displayed his natural wit even in his first film F.A.L.T.U. in 2011. A Flying Jatt could have been so much better than what it is, if he had not kept one eye fixed Westward for inspiration. This one is perhaps best suited to the very very young.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
151 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Film still courtesy: Hype PR
Publicity photograph of Nathan Jones with Tiger Shroff and Remo D’souza courtesy: Raindrop Media