Good news for Rohit Shetty fans : He remains at his sophomoric best, with his tightly retained target audience being those under age 15, and older people whose minds never graduated past school-level trash. Then what was a supposedly sensible person like me doing by watching this terrible movie ? Good question. I am a fool for doing so, and my movie reviewing tendencies repeatedly put me in this compromising position. The character of Jackie Shroff promises us there will be a sequel – I shall be a jackass for watching it, and if I do indeed do it,  I give full permission to His Highness The Great Sooryavanshi to beat me up in public, complete with ridiculous background music.

As a Hindu and BJP member, I am ashamed that the movie revels so much in its Muslim villains. I fully acknowledge that radical Muslim terrorists have attacked India in real life from the ’93 and ’08 Mumbai attacks to the Pulwama massacre. But adopting the jingoistic tone that permeates “Sooryavanshi” will do no favours to a country that already festers with Hindu-Muslim tension.

The plot reeks of bigotry. “Sooryavanshi” ( a shamelessly self-serving Akshay Kumar) is an anti-terrorism squad police officer in Mumbai ( no wonder that with samples with him around, the city has been attacked so often). The terrorists who carried out the 1993 blasts, and their backers, have now surfaced and plan to carry out more RDX attacks in Mumbai. A collection of villains from the far-away Omar Hafeez ( Jackie Shroff) to Riyaaz Hafeez ( Abhimanyu Singh ) to Kadar Usmani ( Gulshan Grover) will all rise now and join forces to plan these explosions in Maximum City. Only one person can save the city from this cataclysm, or so we think till two other uniformed apes join him in a fight orgy at the end.

One thing has to be said in Akshay Kumar’s defence though. At the end, when the triumvirate of Sooryavanshi, Simmba (Ranveer Singh), and Singham (Ajay Devgan) march towards the camera with macho glory, Akshay’s centre position is stolen and given to Ajay Devgan !  What on earth ?!  The movie’s longest running hero is pushed to the periphery and a big-shot who appeared in the last stage of the movie is given centre position literally (note the correct use of “literally”, as opposed to “ my head was literally blown off”). No doubt Akshay would be seething at this demotion and Devgan would be gloating that his cameo condition has been fulfilled. 

Shetty as director, script-writer Yunus Sajawal (who would have been biting his tongue writing this disgraceful script) and Akshay as zero, sorry I mean “hero”, try to craftily but actually oafishly cover its blatant Muslim villainy with scenes starring “good” Muslims. A Muslim crowd co-operates and relents in letting go of one of their influential men after a police officer enlightens them about hidden facts. Muslims, in a scene of blaringly feel-good background music, carry a Hindu idol away from a suspected bomb-site. Why is there no scene of Hindus trying to protect a mosque ? The film tells us of the ’93 Mumbai blasts but why does it not remind us of the ’92 Babri Masjid demolition that triggered the sectarian carnage ?

I’m not trying to paint the Hindus as villains here. I am a proud Hindu myself. But the truth remains that neither Hindus nor Muslims on a collective basis have tried with passion in real-life India to heal wounds – instead they often pick at the wounds. Spielberg’s “Munich” is a terrific filmic reminder that the circle of violence never ends.

The film’s jingoism at every turn drowns the narrative. Radical Islamic terrorism has hit India hard admittedly, but a movie like Kashyap’s outstanding “Black Friday” which captures every bit of the pain in a far more nuanced and humanistic way, is a much better way to handle this exceedingly sensitive topic. Numerous funny touches, and faint relief provided by the comic angle of Surya always mispronouncing names, does not do much to leaven an instigatory Us Vs Them agenda.

We have failed so miserably in real life India’s security situation – the failure to prevent multiple terrorist attacks, the Pulwama massacre of Indian soldiers ending in a retaliation where we were embarrassed by the Pakistani defence force thanks to our antiquated weaponry – that film-makers like Rohit Shetty seek to take advantage of our fractured ego by cobbling together prejudiced horse manure like this.

Hindus who still care for reconciliation, and India’s 200 million Muslims will note here that every negative character is a Muslim and all the police inspectors are Hindu. A man or woman prone towards sectarian violence will be even more provoked after watching this movie.

At the story’s start, Sooryavanshi is sent to capture terrorist Riyaaz Hafeez in Rajasthan. What should have a quiet arrest without violence, which most competent officers could have done, is converted into a three-ring murderous circus by Surya. Gunshots, poor undercover work and jumping like Langurs from rooftops ensue because our hero believes in the great power of Paisa Vasool, never mind if innocent bystanders are injured or killed. Because of his reckless passion to nab terrorists with scant regard for his family’s safety, his wife Ria ( Katrina Kaif ) separates from him.

Kaif has become slightly better in acting, with the passage of decades. Where previously she was wooden, now her expression is slightly more pliable. Just as a tired puffiness creeps into a man’s face as the years go by, so it has into the visage of this iconic beauty. It is not a good idea to wait, however, for her acting to become finally good at age 80.

The best part of the film is Simmba, superbly essayed with comic-tough panache by Ranveer Singh as the South Indian accent sporting police inspector who cools tempers with his funny observations, but is as potent as the greatest hero in cutting down the baddies. Ranveer rocks, especially in the scene where he educates a terrorist, in the heat of the latter’s killing spree, about how terrorism impacts everything from tourism’s benefits to overall income levels to the Pakistani public’s patience. The script with its smarty-pant wits reaches its finest hour here. 

By the time a grieving lady speaks to another wife about how police save lives just like doctors, the scene has lost its emotional value from the get-go amidst the over-boiled tenor and skewed ideology. The ending is a long gun and hand-to-hand fight, and Surya is joined by two other top-cops from the director’s “ Cop Universe “. Here Shetty gets to indulge his video-game first person shooter one-take chops. The Three Cops shoot, fist-fight, hurl projectiles in long frenetic takes but who cares because the enemy is within.   

The action scenes have no realism and are mostly bombastic, made more ridiculous by the world’s worst background music. Trumpets, whistles, nationalistic songs, serenades swamp the ear and one’s never sure whether one is watching a parody or a horror show, thanks to Shetty’s tone-deaf indifference to restraint or sophistication. This kind of cringe-worthy film-making went out of fashion in the 1940s but no one told Shetty.

The cinematography is unremarkable – a shame for an action movie with so many thrilling possibilities.  Just one sequence stands out – an adroit capture of Akshay burning the streets on his motorbike in Thailand which then dovetails into an imaginatively choreographed helicopter chase of a water motorbike. Another bright spot in entertainment is a remix of “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”  - amongst Hindi cinema’s greatest video songs reprised with the same hero two and half decades later, a sizzling Raveena Tandon replaced by another great siren. Alka Yagnik’s voice sounds better and more intact compared to Udit Narayan’s, but it still wonderful to hear these two iconic singers 30 years after they first graced the microphone. The film has only two songs during its runtime – a commendable decision to focus on non-musical narrative.  

Before any acting is discussed, it is shocking to see how Ajay Devgan, Ranveer Singh, Jackie Shroff and ( less surprise) Akshay Kumar  - four top heroes of mainstream Indian cinema, along with a respectable character actor like Kumud Mishra – are party to this communal baiter. This is Indian cinema and its “heroes” at the absolute worst, far worse than any villain could be. As for acting, there is not much to discuss – it is mediocre across the board.

It looks like Sooryavanshi’s promoters have paid many media outlets to falsely proclaim it as a “smash-hit” ! The comedy continues even after the film !  Pic’s total budget is Rs. 160 crore ( just over USD 20 million). After a whole month since release, Bollywood Hungama lists the total earnings at Rs.191 crore and Wikipedia documents it at Rs.288 crore. No doubt the deadly COVID pandemic has dissuaded movie-goers, but with three top heroes, this stinking bomb has not even managed to double its return on investment. Evidently the public has seen through the film’s mean game.

India is at a crucial stage in its five thousand year history, and it is better for it focus on its economic re-development, peace and prosperity, rather than having its air again poisoned by thoroughly useless films that inflame communal tension, and which appeal to our worst, basest impulses.




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