Friday, March 30, 2018


Release date:
March 30, 2018
Ahmed Khan

Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani, Manoj Bajpayee, Randeep Hooda, Prateik Babbar, Darshan Kumar, Deepak Dobriyal, Grandmaster Shifuji Shaurya Bhardwaj, Vipin Sharma, Barbie Sharma, Cameo: Jacqueline Fernandez

“One man army… Against all… Kick… Punch… Fly… Repeat” – these words flash on screen during the trailer of Baaghi 2.

“Kick… Punch… Fly… Repeat” was the formula that turned Baaghi Part 1 into the blockbuster it became for actor Tiger Shroff in 2016. Part 2 regurgitates the nuts and bolts of the template, retains Shroff in the cast and adds all-pleasing clichés into the mix.

A bow to the ongoing chest-thumping nationalist discourse in India – check.

Stylised action centred around Shroff – check.

Extreme violence – check.

Romance with pretty girl to soften the blows – check.

Pretty girl soaking in the rain to establish her vivacity a la Shraddha Kapoor in too many of her films – check.

Heroine accusing hero of chasing her though he is not, in deference to male audience members who feel that is precisely what all women do – check.

Heroine saying “I hate stalkers”, I suppose in deference to feminists in the audience put off by the aforementioned scene – check.

Heroine pretending to be irritated with hero though she is not – check.

Songs to lighten the mood when the going gets intense – check.

Villain dancing in darkened den with ‘item’ girl – check.

Excuses in the plot that allow Shroff to take off his shirt and display an impeccably muscled, painted-up torso – check.

Hero’s shirt ripped off in the final fight – check.

There are moments in Baaghi 2 that are so trite and so dated, it feels like a 1970s-’80s assembly-line product. The shirt-stripping, of course, is a 21st century Bollywood trope that was fun when it started but is now becoming tedious in the hands of unimaginative directors.

And Baaghi 2 is nothing if not unimaginative and bland.

The film opens with an attack on Neha (Disha Patani) by two masked men while she is seated in her car. For the record, Patani here looks uncannily like Shraddha Kapoor who played the joint protagonist of the previous Baaghi.

Cut to two months later, and we meet Ranveer Pratap Singh a.k.a. Ronnie (Shroff), an Army man stationed in snow-laden, mountainous territory. Ronnie is introduced as an upright, no-nonsense fellow who tied a civilian to a jeep and paraded him around the area as retribution for stone throwing and disrespect to the national flag.

The reference is obviously to the real-life Major Leetul Gogoi who, last year, used an innocent civilian, Farooq Ahmad Dar, as a human shield tied to his jeep while he drove through several Kashmiri villages. The state human rights commission declared Gogoi’s act illegal, and there is no evidence till date that Dar was guilty of any crime that day, but the team of Baaghi 2 clearly does not care for facts since pandering to majoritarian sentiments has yielded box-office results for other Bollywood films in recent years.

The weird part is that this intro is just an aside in a film that is primarily about Ronnie’s link to Neha. We soon learn they were in love in college, and that four years earlier, she had broken off their relationship to marry a man of her father’s choice.

In the present, the Goa-based Neha seeks Ronnie out in desperation when her four-year-old daughter is kidnapped. Ronnie takes leave from work to help her, but is soon flummoxed when everyone around her, including her husband Shekhar Salgaonkar (Darshan Kumar), insists that she does/did not have a child.

The pre-interval portion of Baaghi 2 remains suspenseful as we grapple with the mystery of the missing girl. Unless you have already seen the 2016 Telugu film on which it is based – Kshanam directed by Ravikanth Perepu, starring Adivi Sesh and Adah Sharma – there are questions that hold attention for a while. Is Neha mentally disturbed? Does little Rhea exist?

The addition of a string of promising supporting characters revs up the proceedings. There is the cynical DIG Ajay Shergil (Manoj Bajpayee), the eccentric ACP Loha Singh Dhull a.k.a. LSD (Randeep Hooda), Neha’s drugged-out brother-in-law Sunny Salgaonkar (Prateik Babbar) and the well-meaning car dealer Usman Langda (Deepak Dobriyal). They offer hope especially since Bajpayee, Hooda and Dobriyal are vastly superior artistes to the gym-manufactured leading man.

Soon though it becomes evident that director Ahmed Khan and his writers (story adaptation: Sajid Nadiadwala, also the film’s producer; screenplay: Jojo Khan, Abbas Heirapurwala and Neeraj Kumar Mishra) have bitten off more than they can chew.

The action becomes almost robotic post-interval, the narrative cold, and the effort at clever dialogue writing is laughable as the film drones on.

The stunts that start off as worthy of wolf whistles lose their lustre soon enough. There is only so much that style can achieve when substance is absent. Santhana Krishnan Ravichandran’s camerawork is completely uninspired even as the film travels through beautiful locations.

Randeep Hooda’s conviction in the midst of such dullness is enjoyable for a while. He throws himself into the role of a sartorially unconventional cop – posted in Goa from Punjab – who is not above being impertinent with his seniors. He even manages to pull off lines like, “Jaise udte Punjab ko main zameen pe le aaya, waise doobte Goa ko kinaare pe le aaoonga.

His charisma can do little for Baaghi 2 by its second half though, when scene after scene is rolled out so lifelessly that even the usually fantastic Deepak Dobriyal ends up sounding unwittingly comical when he says, with reference to himself, in a particular tragic moment, “Hyderabad is not known just for biryani, it is also known for qurbani (sacrifice).” Tee hee. That sentence, by the way, is the writers’ transparent effort to offer up a ‘good Muslim’ in the script to counter the initial pandering to Islamophobia and anti-Kashmiri-Muslim sentiment in the opening scenes.

Ronnie in Baaghi 2 is meant to be some sort of profound metaphor for the Army and the battle of nationalist versus anti-national forces. I realised this in the closing moments, after the secret of Rhea’s disappearance is revealed to be a damp squib and the villains have been vanquished in this seemingly personal enmity, when Ronnie’s army boss pops up to bellow the words, “The war is over. The war is over.” More unintentional hilarity, I say.

The much-discussed Ek Do Teen redux is the least of Baaghi 2’s problems. The music and Jacqueline Fernandez’s dancing do not deserve the condemnation they have received in response to the song video released earlier, but the overall effect is unexceptional enough in comparison with the original featuring Madhuri Dixit to make you wonder why they bothered to redo it.

At the heart of this film’s tribulations lies Tiger Shroff. The young star’s nice-guy vibe and labours at the gym are unmistakable, but can do little to make up for his blank face. Given that, and the fact that the stunt choreography has nothing new to offer (unlike the inventive use of Kalaripayattu in Baaghi), Baaghi 2 is an all-out insipid affair.

Tiger Shroff is just one of many passionless ingredients in this passionless film.

Cautionary note: Baaghi 2 is a great showcase for the inconsistent track record of India’s Central Board of Film Certification. Limbs and necks are broken with gay abandon throughout and at one point the camera focuses on DIG Shergil poking a finger into a fresh bullet wound on Ronnie’s body. Yet this film has been awarded a mild UA rating while others are routinely banned, chopped and/or given A certificates merely as punishment for being realistic.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
144 minutes 46 seconds 

A version of this review was published on Firstpost:

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Release date:
March 23, 2018
Siddharth P. Malhotra

Rani Mukerji, Harsh Mayar, Neeraj Kabi, Rohit Suresh Saraf, Sparsh Khanchandani, Poorti Jai Agarwal, Benjamin Yangal, Jannat Zubair Rahmani, Jayesh Kardak, Riya Shukla, Vikrant Soni, Kalaivanan Kannan, Shiv Subrahmanyam, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Vikram Gokhale, Hussain Dalal, Asif Basra

Back in 2005, when he released the excellent Iqbal, I remember writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor saying: a few minutes into the film, you will forget that my hero is deaf-mute. Truth be told, it was a while after watching Iqbal that it struck me the leading man was also Muslim sans all the indulgent clichés and compulsory cultural markers associated with Hindi film Muslims until then.

Kukunoor’s conviction and approach to that character come to mind each time I watch a film on a differently abled person or minority community member, and I find myself asking: does it pass the Kukunoor/Iqbal Test?

Hichki does. 

Director Siddharth P. Malhotra’s new Hindi film is about a teacher who is tasked with bringing an unruly, disinterested class of financially backward students in line. Apart from the children’s background, Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji) faces two additional challenges: their elite Mumbai school, St Notker’s, seems resigned to their fate; and Naina has Tourette Syndrome, a disorder characterised by vocal and motor tics, in her case a tendency to make certain loud involuntary sounds and swing her head to the side while touching her hand to her chin, most especially when she is agitated. Her battle then is not just to help the girls and boys of Class 9F overcome their own pessimism and the prejudice they face from some of the richer students and one particular teacher, but also to guide them past the prejudice they direct at her.

Hichki (Hiccup) is based on the book Front of the Class by Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky which was made into the 2008 American film of the same name. Frankly, although it will very likely prompt scores of Google searches in the coming days, Hichki is not about Tourette’s – Malhotra’s film is designed to have us looking past Naina’s condition, seeing her as a woman who happens to have Tourette’s and is determined not to allow her students to succumb to their worst fears or insecurities, to recognise their own failings and biases even as they battle the biases others hold against them. Tourette’s is just one of multiple factors steering this screenplay – written by Anckur Chaudhry, Malhotra himself, Ambar Hadap and Ganesh Pandit – that, interestingly for patriarchal Bollywood, has taken a male-centric literary work and adapted it with a woman as the protagonist.

The result is a largely engaging film that, despite the hiccups in its writing journey, manages to hit the mark.

It is, in some senses, a predictable path. We know from the moment Naina Mathur enters that classroom, how the story will turn out: that the kids will resist her, they will next be won over by her sincerity, and they will finally become her allies. Occasionally it feels rather thin too as a consequence, sometimes manipulative and often also very simplistic. This is, after all, a formula that has been repeatedly visited in films since E.R. Braithwaite took up a teacher’s job in his book To Sir, With Love and Sidney Poitier followed suit on screen more than half a century back. The addition of classism within the school and Tourette’s to the situation does, however, alter the dynamics.

In the end then, Hichki offers enough surprises and enough moments of unmanipulative emotional intensity to be a rewarding experience.

One of the film’s biggest strengths is Mukerji, who has been seen in only three features – Aiyyaa, Talaash and Mardaani – since the box-office success of No One Killed Jessica in 2011. She lifts Hichki every time she is on the scene, bringing empathy and charm to Naina’s character without at any moment soliciting the audience’s pity. Even when the screenplay is passing through its most slender passages, Mukerji elevates it with her presence.

She is surrounded by a bouquet of charismatic supporting actors, not all of whom get the benefit of in-depth characterisation. Most of the students in Naina’s class, for instance, are painted with broad brush strokes and a single defining attribute that do not do justice to the evidently capable actors playing them. Among the ones getting short shrift is Riya Shukla who delivered an electrifying performance in 2016’s Swara Bhasker-starrer Nil Battey Sannata.

The youngster with the benefit of the best-written part is Harsh Mayar playing Aatish, the last rebel standing in 9F. Look closely: that casually good-looking guy is the same fellow who played the little livewire Chhotu in Nila Madhab Panda’s I Am Kalam (2011) for which he won a National Award for Best Child Artist. Age has done nice things to Mayar, looks-wise and acting-wise. There are some rough edges that need smoothening out, such as when he is given a somewhat schmaltzy speech to deliver, but overall he has the ability to hold his own in Mukerji’s company and acting chops worth watching out for.

To learn how not to be pulled down by a spot of speechifying in a screenplay, he just needs to take notes from his co-star, theatre veteran Neeraj Kabi, playing the doggedly classist Mr Wadia, Naina’s bete noir in the St Notker’s staffroom. Even when the man sneeringly describes 9F as “municipality garbage”, Kabi ensures that his character comes across as credible rather than hyperbolic.

People can be mean. People who face nastiness from others can in turn be nasty to those less fortunate than they are. Hichki may not have the heft of Iqbal but it is a valuable reminder, through the vehicle of the Naina-Aatish equation, that intolerance is not justified simply because the person at the receiving end is flawed. It is also, of course, about not giving up on a human being if you spot redeeming qualities beyond their jagged exterior.

The film itself is not without its faults, but its uplifting theme and Mukerji’s understated performance serve as compensation. Besides, it drew tears from me more than once, each time when I was least expecting it. Sweetness and good intentions make for a pleasant combination in Hichki.  

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
118 minutes 29 seconds

A version of this review was published on Firstpost: