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Neither guts nor glory

Himmatwala is billed as “A Sajid Khan Entertainer", but it’s actually “A Sajid Khan Yawnfest" that stretches for a seemingly unending 150 minutes and has about three good jokes.

One of them, “I hate gareebs (the poor)", is uttered by Tamannaah’s Rekha who, like the character played by Sridevi in the 1983 movie of the same name, is the head-tossing and foot-stomping spoilt daughter of an exploitative landowner in the fictional village Ramnagar. Jeetendra’s goody two-shoes brought Sridevi’s dominatrix to heel in the original K. Raghavendra Rao movie (itself a remake of a Telugu hit).

The taming of headstrong, shrewish women was a dominant feature of other Hindi remakes of Telugu movies, which collectively represented a backlash to an increasingly vocal feminist movement and greater participation of women in the workforce. In the aftermath of the gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi, what to make of Tamannaah, who makes her entry in a leather dress with a whip in hand? Khan is too squeamish to replicate the misogyny of the 1980s, but he doesn’t prevent Rekha from being transformed into a salwar-kameez-clad devotee of her man.

Khan’s Himmatwala is also set in 1983, which saves the production team the effort of updating the original story. The movie was marketed as a potential blockbuster and has been released during the long (and safe) Easter weekend to ensure that it achieves its goal, but it’s about as classy as an innerwear advertisement on a Hindi news channel. There are more people in a local train compartment than in Ramnagar, while the footage of a size zero tiger, which has an important place in the plot, is too obviously grafted on to scenes featuring hero Ajay Devgn.

It’s not only the production values that remain unchanged. The plot is also nearly the same: Ravi (Devgn) returns to his village to rescue his widowed mother (Zarina Wahab) and sister Padma (Leena Jumani) from penury and avenge the death of his honest father at the hands of evil landowner Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar). Like Amjad Khan in the original, Sher Singh is a buffoonish villain who isn’t as effective as he could be. His sidekick Narayandas (Paresh Rawal) and son Shakti (Adhyayan Suman) are a bit more menacing, but given the frivolous tone of the movie, there is no need to feel terrible about their misdeeds.

Undiscriminating children might enjoy the slow-motion action sequences and the rhyming, pun-laden humour (the principal dialogue is by Farhad-Sajid), while equally undiscriminating adults might spare a few tee-hees for the antics of the reliably hammy actors Manjrekar and Rawal.

The film-maker, who has written the screenplay and contributed to the dialogue, is a self-declared fan of the mass-based, formulaic entertainers of the 1970s and 1980s. But Sajid Khan has neither the imagination to take apart the genre nor enough distance to pay tribute to it. He loves the 1980s but fails to convince us that the movies made during the decade are worth resurrecting.

Himmatwala released in theatres on Friday.

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