Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla, brothers and director-duo, are Bollywood’s master recyclers of pulp action thrillers. They have a glossy, plastic idiom, heavily dependent on European locations and post-production gimmickry. Race cars can be in glitzy slow motion. In fact, slow motion in jagged loops is their trademark. The men in these movies are always rakish; they live in ritzy hotels and casinos, and are surrounded by women who are always fashionably styled and brain-dead. Sexist humour drives the subplots.
Race 2, a sequel to 2008’s Race, is a revenge thriller with exactly these elements. The template is intact. The plot has a few gripping turns and some of the action sequences are stylishly executed. I was glued to the long mid-air climax. The writing is literal—also a de rigueur in Abbas-Mustan films. In Race 2, the moment of literality which jumped out at me and made me laugh the most was when one of the characters points to a blueprint of a church interior, and the camera swishes to a thick bundle of papers, electric blue in colour.
The love of money is supreme in a delightfully immoral way—everybody is a crook basking in the power that comes with owning money. The women are especially stirred by the sight of suitcases filled to the brim with cash. The villain has some redeeming qualities, one of which is his monstrous presence in the fighting ring (he is a street- fighter champion)—a scene reeking of unadulterated pulp and extremely enjoyable to me was a sequence which ends with the two hulks fighting each other, with bloody, heaving, macerated bodies. It’s trashy violence, and not for everyone.
The plotting of heists and murders snowballs after Ranveer (Saif Ali Khan) arrives in Istanbul to avenge the murder of his lover Sonia (Bipasha Basu) by Armaan (John Abraham). He is helped by inspector Robert (Anil Kapoor). Armaan’s stepsister, played by Deepika Padukone, is enamoured of Ranveer. So, it seems, is Omisha (Jacqueline Fernandez), Armaan’s girlfriend. Robert and his assistant, an unbelievably dotty human, played to the hilt by Ameesha Patel, make the film’s comic subplot.
Khan holds the film together. The right combination of brooding, brawny and charming suits him and he towers over Abraham’s Armaan, the character with more possibilities in the limited scheme of the story. Padukone, Patel and Fernandez are accidental and inconsequential flourishes in it.
Race was a better suspense builder than Race 2. So was Players, Abbas-Mustan’s half-baked remake of The Italian Job. The big budget is on display, and in boring, plastic ways. A lover of pulp action thrillers has many sharper, and far more entertaining options.
Vani is frightened of her casteist north Indian parents, who live in Dehradun. Her sister leaves home a day before her wedding to a boy her parents find suitable, to be with her lover. Vani is in love with Akaash, whom she met while studying in Delhi. She dreams of an MBA degree and of marrying for love, but ends up marrying to make her parents happy. She is in a loveless, tortuous marriage. Akaash has no familial antecedents, and it is clear he can choose to do what he wants. While visiting a college reunion, she meets Akaash, and things look up for a second chance at life.
Vani is the average Indian girl, and her trials are worth telling. Luv Ranjan, the writer and director of Akaash Vani, who previously directed Pyaar Ka Punchnama, feels the pulse of middle India—the majority obsessed with marriages that please friends and family, not the one who is marrying; for whom a girl’s education and freedom are afterthoughts. Akaash Vani is a love story, shot postcard-perfect— Himachali snow-capped hills look much more pristine than they are, and glow-worms and warm, wooded cabins are common.
Some pretty visuals suiting the medium aside, Aakash Vani could have been a television serial. In storytelling, it is awkward and fractious. Besides some obvious odes to famous Bollywood romances, Ranjan is peculiarly at odds with the genre he is attempting. He seems to be wanting to do one such big romance with the gorgeously picturized song, but he can’t reconcile it with the realistic situations of the story. It is ultimately a hotchpotch. There is no cinematic vision enhancing or defining the story.
The lead cast has a few moments. Kartik Tiwari in the role of Aakash has no real spark as an actor, while Nushrat Bharucha as Vani is an actor with promise. She had delivered a more convincing performance in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha.
Except for a few moments, and some competent, if synthetic, cinematography by Sudhir K. Chaudhary, a story with immediacy is lost in flinching execution.
Race 2 and Akaash Vani released in theatres on Friday.