The studio behind Dhadak, Kesari and Student of the Year 2 has finally found a film that isn’t worth releasing in theatres. Dharma Productions’ Drive has apparently been ready since 2018. It’s out now, exclusively on Netflix, and while it’s tough to make a case for Tarun Mansukhani’s film being released anywhere, at least theatre audiences have been spared. You can’t get a ticket to ride – and you shouldn’t care. As for those of you who blunder into its headlights online, it’s between you and your conscience and the left-facing arrow which is all that separates you from the BoJack Horseman episodes you’ve been meaning to catch up on.
You can see why Dharma would want to dump Drive online. I don’t know if it’s tougher to buy Jacqueline Fernandez as the high-heels-wearing winner of a drag race or as the leader of a criminal gang, but it’s not a decision I want to have to make in the first five minutes of a film. Tara and her cohorts are planning a major heist – at Rashtrapati Bhavan, no less. The government gets wind of this and sends its man to infiltrate the gang. An hour later, Sushant Singh Rajput is giving Fernandez a foot massage (they’re barely friends at this point) while laying out his master plan (it involves rats).
Even by the low standards of Bollywood heist films, Drive is supremely lazy filmmaking. Most everything that happens is patently ridiculous – my personal breaking point was the scene in which the gang stands perfectly still so that the security team of (I assume) one of the most secure buildings in the country thinks the system has frozen. The Dhamaal-meets-Italian-Job aesthetic is a monument to bad taste. Everyone looks exhausted, from Pankaj Tripathi, who can barely keep his eyes open, to the extras in the background who can’t be bothered to cheer properly.
Rajput has the fixed plastic smile of an actor who wishes his career were in another gear. Fernandez struggles with simple actions like striking a steering wheel in anger. The only thing I can get behind is the relatively trim running time – just under two hours – though I’d have been happier if the film was 90 minutes of Fernandez outtakes of lines like “Yeh hai woh Formula One driver jo kehta hai ki humein street race mein hara sakta hai". In the 1980s, films deemed too poor for theatrical release went straight to video. Drive seems like straight to digital: a film which might have once been destined for movie screens, but wasn’t worth the bother.