Mumbai: For a director or a producer, being identifiable with one kind of cinema can be a compliment. It means he has built a universe with his sensibility, his characters and his politics—we know a Tarantino universe, for example.
In the case of producer-director Sanjay Gupta, it is not a compliment. The sameness of his films is not about sensibility, but about repeating the same basic techniques—special effects, camera angles, background music—to achieve an overall visual effect.
Much of that sameness, unfortunately, is also a result of plagiarism. Kaante (2002), directed by him, was heavily inspired by Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs; Zinda (2006) was a remake of the Korean film Oldboy; and now, Acid Factory, a film that Gupta has produced for director Suparn Verma, is a remake of a little-known Colombian film called Unknown (many long sequences of these three films are available for online viewing, and I spent around 2 hours discovering how some scenes of Acid Factory are facsimiles of Unknown). Gupta likes a particular kind of crime thriller: the guns, molls and bikes variety, and there are many such movies to get inspired by.
Looks familiar: Fardeen Khan’s opening sequence in Acid Factory is quite similar to Sanjay Dutt’s role in Zinda.
Acid Factory opens in a dilapidated warehouse, which, we later know, is the acid factory, where five men (played by Manoj Bajpai, Fardeen Khan, Aftab Shivdasani, Danny Denzongpa and Dino Morea) wake up to a state of amnesia. They don’t know who they are, but have clues to the fact that two of them have been kidnapped. Who are the kidnappers and who are the kidnapped? It takes a sixth member in confinement (Dia Mirza), a mafia kingpin (Irrfan Khan) and a cop (Gulshan Grover) to unearth their identities before the climax, when the kingpin arrives in the factory to finish the job for which the group is there.
Gupta’s influence on the director, who has earlier made Ek Khiladi, Ek Haseena (2005) with Fardeen Khan and Koena Mitra in the lead, is much too obvious. Like Gupta’s earlier crime thrillers, the narrative in Acid Factory moves back and forth in time, facilitated by jump cuts and some really jarring camera movements. In the long opening sequence where Fardeen Khan’s character is violently coming to terms with his entrapment in the smoke-filled factory, the actor’s animated grunts, cries and jerky body language are identical to Sanjay Dutt’s histrionics while in confinement in Zinda. In physicality and in character, all the five men are akin to each other: loud, overtly masculine and mafioso-like. Through their interactions, we don’t come to know much about each. This is a classic ploy in some crime thrillers: instead of unravelling a character, the writer focuses on unravelling the characters’ identity, but in doing so, the best of them leave behind imprints that make them memorable.
Acid Factory is written by four writers: Gupta, Saurabh Shukla (who was the co-writer of Satya, besides many other films), Verma and Milind Gadagkar; dialogues are by Girish Dhamija and Shukla. The script is tight, thankfully making the film’s duration a neat one-and-a-half hours. But some situations are glaringly absurd: For example, in a story that takes place in Durban, the police officer in search of the five men briefs his team of Caucasian policemen in Hindi and the cops nod in obeisance. Most of the film’s dialogues are trite. Sample this: After the entire operation is over, one of the survivors asks the other, “Are you okay?” In the very next scene, the wife of one of the survivors asks his him the same question. The police officer’s exasperation is expressed in phrases such as: “bloody smart!”; “bloody clever!”.
Performances don’t make or break this film. The actors are not required to do much, besides some deadly stunts and loud histrionics. Irrfan Khan has little screen time, and as usual, he’s subtle in his role as a merciless gang lord.
The things that make Acid Factory watchable are, not surprisingly, in the technical department. The camera work (by Sahil Kapoor) capture some beautiful South African locations with finesse; the music, although shrill in parts, complements the film’s pace and suspense. Some of the visual tricks are old Sanjay Gupta staples: We have seen the leading men walk in slow motion against a sepia-toned, hazy backdrop before; it’s his John Woo touch.
But all that jazz doesn’t make a good film. Watch Acid Factory only if you’re willing to endure 90 minutes of clichéd stunts-and-suspense action.
Acid Factory released in theatres on Friday.