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You’re in the Army now

Dilip Ghosh’s directorial debut Commando targets many enemies with a single bullet that goes by the name of Karanveer Singh Dogra (Vidyut Jamwal). The Chinese who capture Karanveer when a routine mission on the Indo-Chinese border goes awry are, of course, horrible sons-of-so-and-sos. But so is the Indian government, which disowns Karanveer after the Chinese declare him a spy. As is Amrit Kanwal Singh (Jaideep Ahlawat), the despicable thug who is terrorising Dilerkot town and forcibly trying to marry the local beauty Simrit (Pooja Chopra).

Inspired by the movies of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and several other thespians of testosterone, Commando is a showcase of Jamwal’s super-fit body and martial arts skills. It’s also an advertisement for the Indian military and a call to arms to civilians who are fed up with corruption and violence against women. Did we miss anything?

Although Karanveer is described as a one-man army, there’s only so much one human being—or one movie—can do. Amrit gets his comeuppance, the government loses face while the Chinese can breathe easy until the sequel, which we can bet is being punched out in a suburban corner of Mumbai.

Jamwal’s disgraced commando is hiding out in Dilerkot when he decides to rescue Simrit from Amrit Kanwal or AK, who has a coal-black heart and milky-white eyes like Dr Manhattan from Watchmen. AK likes to crack Santa-Banta jokes before busting open his victim’s skull, and he has a gang of satisfyingly debauched followers. He makes a fine villain, especially since he is played by the talented Ahlawat, and is a worthy adversary for Karanveer’s physical prowess. Chopra makes a decent object of desire. All the elements are in place and the generic characters in their positions, so why then Commando lose the plot, like countless other movies, after the interval? AK’s actions begin to border on the comic, while Karanveer’s heroics look increasingly preposterous. The movie’s attempt to capitalise on the Delhi gang-rape and create sympathy for Simrit’s plight is cancelled out by an item song in which the dancer serenades AK with the idea that he is an ant and she is a mound of jaggery.

Musical numbers have no places in a genre piece like this one—Stallone or Van Damme had to worry only about breaking legs rather than breaking into song. At 119 minutes, Commando’s predictable denouement takes far too long to emerge. Genre fans can take heart from the value-for-money fight sequences, including an extended cat-and-mouse game in a jungle, and the fake stirring message, which exhorts us to hang gangsters and/or join the Army.

Commando released in theatres on Friday.

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