JAN 30, 2003 – THERE’S A LOT ABOUT DUM THAT REMINDS YOU OF ARJUN, one of the best attempts at portraying the post-Bachchan Angry Young Man, specifically the chawl-resident father who’s middle-class weakness personified and the son who rages at the corruption around him. The difference is that Arjun had Sunny Deol fighting the System; Uday (Vivek Oberoi) here is simply trying to shake off ‘Encounter’ Shankar (Atul Kulkarni), a corrupt cop who stands in the way of his becoming a police officer.
It’s not as if Uday’s out to rid society of corrupt cops. Like Vikram in the original (the Tamil hit Dhil), he’s just a guy-next-door with friends who take puffs from the same cigarette and a family that dotes on him. He wouldn’t even have met his nemesis had Kaveri (Diya Mirza, looking very pretty in the standard ‘hero’s girlfriend’ role) not sounded off Shankar while the latter was making a public nuisance of himself.
This it-could-happen-to-anyone scenario makes you empathise with Uday’s plight, especially after witnessing the simple pleasures in his life, like his charming meet-cute with Kaveri and their expression of love, with Singin’ in the Rain style abandon, to the strains of Sandeep Chowta’s tuneful Jeena.
Atul Kulkarni plays Shankar with an interesting combination of vulnerability — “Yeh daag mit to jayega na,” he quaveringly asks the doctor who patches up a facial wound — and scenery-chewing gusto. Vivek Oberoi, in the latest of his impressive early resume of ‘hatke’ roles, is perfect as the tough-as-nails brain-brawn combination — “[Mujhe] Maar daal varna bahut pachtaayega,” he warns the cop who’s beaten him to a pulp. And the initial standoffs between these two, like an episode revolving around Uday’s sister’s wedding, are excitingly handled by director E Nivas (whose Shool explored a similar canvas).
But post-interval, after the framework for the cat-and-mouse that will form the rest of Dum has been laid out, Nivas loses his touch, and a film that was taut and muscular like its coiled-intensity protagonist turns flabby with commercial compromises and hero-glorification.
The law-abiding middle-class qualities that warmed us to Uday – he recites from the Hanuman Chaleesa — vanish as he begins to dispense vigilante justice, with hard-rock guitar riffs wailing in the background. Forget Arjun comparisons, he’s now Rambo, who continues fighting even after getting shot.
We’re now in a universe where only Uday and Shankar matter. All interesting supporting characters either vanish or show up as clichés like the corrupt politician, the selfless best friend (Sushant Singh, wasted in this role), the honest cop who’s mentor to the hero, the ruthless killer who laughably switches sides, and the pregnant sister who’s perfect target for the bad guys. Why have the chawl setting if the residents there aren’t going to be used as colourful props and are simply there for group dances? Even Kaveri disappears; instead of her mandatory duet, we have Yana Gupta shaking booty to the raunchy Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo.
What begins as an engrossing against-all-odds story ends up as a violent, overblown Clash of the Titans. Some of the action is rousingly choreographed, but you can’t help feeling that there was a lot more dum in the film when the muscle factor was a lot less.
Copyright ©2003 The Economic Times: Madras Plus