November 1, 2019
Sushant Singh Rajput, Jacqueline Fernandez, Boman Irani, Pankaj Tripathi, Vibha Chibber, Sapna Pabbi, Vikramjeet Virk
So it is here at last: the first direct-to-Netflix release by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.
Produced by KJo, written and directed by Tarun “Dostana” Mansukhani, starring Sushant Singh Rajput and Jacqueline Fernandez, Drive is a thriller that follows the tried-and-tested pattern of a heist within a heist within a heist. Film industries across the world have explored this genre to fun effect. India’s Hindi film industry a.k.a. Bollywood proved that it has the chops for wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels crime back in 1978 with the iconic Don starring Amitabh Bachchan, more recently with Abbas Mustan’s Race in 2008 and the SRK-Farhan Akhtar Don films in 2006 and 2011.
The very least you would expect after seeing the poster, the credits of Drive and reading its summary is that it would deliver spadefuls of excitement, pretty people in pretty clothes and swish special effects. Well, lower those expectations right away.
Sure, Rajput and Fernandez look hot in the film, both have tremendously fit bodies, and if you think back on the story, the original concept probably had the potential to become a slick cops-and-robbers drama. At first it does seem like Drive might prove to be an entertainer but the narrative, like the special effects, steadily declines as the film progresses. The SFX are overall so downmarket that it is hard to believe Drive comes to us from Dharma, whose signature for at least two decades has been glossy visuals.
Not that anything else in the film is of high calibre. Well suited to the SFX are the generic storytelling style, the overall ordinary production quality, inconsistent audio, a stand-out acting loophole and glaring lack of logic that, among other things, translates into Delhi roads – notorious in reality for their traffic jams – obligingly emptying themselves out to accommodate high-speed car races and chases at all times of day and night.
The reason why Drive is set in India’s capital city is because a robbery is being planned in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The primary players in this game are a group of car racing aficionados, an outsider who infiltrates their inner circle, a criminal known simply as King – you know, like Don in Don – and corrupt bureaucrats.
The opening race in Drive is reasonably well done, the song ‘n’ dance that follows is kinda nicely choreographed by Adil Shaikh, and Jacqueline Fernandez has some cute moves in it. From then on it is a downhill descent.
Gaping gaps in the plotline recede into the background in the face of ordinary car chases that routinely look plastic and an embarrassingly low-brow extended climax that feels like the work of an entry-level animation student. Lightning McQueen’s universe appeared more real than the vehicles and roads in several of this film’s scenes.
Much has been made of the fact that a portion of Drive was filmed in Israel, making it the first Bollywood venture to be shot there. The media has reported that the film was also partly funded by that country’s government. The true mystery here is why the Israeli sarkar thought this film would be a good ad for them in India. Be assured that what Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is to New York City or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is to Spain, Drive is absolutely not to Tel Aviv. At best the city is treated like the geographical equivalent of an ‘item’ number chucked mindlessly into a bad Bollywood film – it springs up out of the blue and it has no relevance whatsoever to the storyline.
In the face of such mediocrity, analysing the screenplay almost feels pointless. But a job is a job, so consider this. Without giving anything away let us just say the only way the masterplan revealed in the climax of Drive could possibly have worked is if no one in Rashtrapati Bhavan’s entire security department checked a critical character’s ID carefully for several days.
Granted that this point arises only in retrospect, and granted that this person could have had the world’s top creator of fake IDs backing them, so instead consider this question that comes up quite early in the film. (Some people may consider this paragraph a spoiler) The loot could not have been where it was unless other critical characters managed to easily beat the security system in the Indian President’s residence for what must have been months, if not years. If you have visited Rashtrapati Bhavan and experienced the tight restrictions in place in the complex, you would know how ridiculous this is. How the crooks aced the system is never explained, we are simply expected to accept that they did because we are told so. (Spoiler alert ends)
Or consider this. Person X says in the end that they were expecting to be deceived by Person Y. But in an earlier scene when X realised they had been double-crossed by Y, the facial expression – clearly visible in close-up – is one of shock and not at all “oh well, I knew this was coming”.
Or this. In a key scene in Drive, a quartet of cars zips through an airport runway and the occurrence seems not to be a blip on the radar of Air Traffic Control (ATC), the local police or the news media at that point or for the two months that the story continues. This writing laziness is intentional – having ATC, the police and press notice the breach would have been too much of an inconvenience since it could have meant the kingpins of the gameplan being discovered before the writer wanted them to be, you see.
Or consider this. Snazzy cars with the words “Delhi Police” emblazoned on them zoom about the city, offering evidence of how little the team of Drive knows the reality of the capital’s ill-equipped force.
As for the acting, well, Pankaj Tripathi does lend a Pankaj Tripathi touch to his character, but really, how is one to seriously and fairly critique the performances in such a film?
For a moment let us set aside thoughts of the cast though, and Johar, Netflix and Israel. Let us take that moment to mourn the fact that this sub-standard action flick has been made by the same director who gave us Dostana, which, notwithstanding its resemblance to a Hollywood film, was, in its own way, pathbreaking in the Indian social context. From Dostana to Drive is such a fall.
Rating (out of five stars): 1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Photograph courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive_(2019_film)