If someone makes a biopic about Amitabh Bachchan circa Zanjeer, they could do worse than entrust the part to Sonu Sood, who towers and smoulders like Bachchan – only the voice is different, less orotund, less prone to juicy rhetoric (even if his character, Pratap Pandit, is from Lucknow). Like that early Bachchan, Pratap is a policeman, and the similarities end there. Despite a tendency to answer phone calls with a “Jai Hind,” Pratap isn’t a shining beacon of incorruptibility. In his professional life, he’s an encounter specialist who’d rather polish off criminals instead of hauling them to court. And his personal life is split, at least for a while, between a wife (Neha Dhupia, looking very wan and miscast) and a mistress (Anjana Sukhani, playing a temptress appropriately named Urvashi). Had the director Kabeer Kaushik done little more than chart the story of his protagonist, Maximum could have ended up a gripping little film.
For Pratap is a gripping man. (And the film begins with a gripping image – a blood-soaked Pratap running, gun in hand, by the side of a train.) Kaushik, with time and patience that a modern-day viewer may not possess, pieces together parts of Pratap. The head of the household who sits down for a puja. The man from a vegetarian family who ducks into an Irani restaurant for some kheema, which one might view as the gastronomic equivalent of his mistress. And yet, he loves his wife – enough to put on a check-waali shirt on her command, enough to envelop her in an embrace as she begins to scream at him about Urvashi, enough to don an apron and make her a Spanish omelette on their anniversary – and his daughter, whose shoelaces keep coming undone. Pratap is a fascinatingly flawed family man, and we want to see a portrait of this part of his life, framed by the perils of his profession.
Unluckily for us, his police work is the subject of the film. Maximum spans the five years when Pratap and fellow cop Arun Inamdar (Naseeruddin Shah, in an underdeveloped role that could have been handled by Shivaji Satam) were trying to outdo each other in the number of encounter killings.(“Mere zyada hain,” Arun says with quiet pride, like someone who entered the men’s room with a measuring tape and came out smiling.) And Kaushik throws in every cliché about the modern-day Mumbai movie. There are oily politicians, self-serving journalists, corrupt builders, overseas dons, long-suffering wives, loyalty-shifting aides – Kaushik even throws in the scene where cops wait for a criminal in a crowded railway station, with unsuspecting passengers milling about. After a while, we feel we’re watching a rough cut of a Ram Gopal Varma production (though his detractors may say that this is how his films end up). And of course providence plays a part – it always does in these films. Never underestimate the astrologer who warns against train travel. (We’re meant to recall the image that opened the film.)
Kaushik attempts to justify his title by setting his film in Maximum City and by assigning to the rivals (Pratap and Arun) the ambition of “maximum power.” But he’s felled by his own ambition. Instead of narrating a straightforward story, he shuffles events around, staging effects before causes. Usually, we look at shootouts in the movies and say, “Where are the cops?” In Maximum, we wonder where the civilians are. They show up as television reporters and wives and children, and disappear into the wallpaper. There’s also Pratap’s father, an English professor who walks into the rains and quotes from Hamlet to the sea: “To thine own self be true.” Like Polonius, whose advice to his son this was, Pratap’s father soon ends up dead, which was the one time I cracked a smile. If these comparisons are intentional, this may be the first time a leading man has ended up playing Laertes.
Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.