There’s something odd about gangsters with a six pack. How do they maintain it if they’re on the run from the police? Do they simply hide out at the nearest Talwalkar’s, doing bench presses as a henchman holds a gun to a trainer’s temple? And from where do they derive protein? Surely not from the booze and the greasy legs of chicken at the upscale restaurants they always seem to duck into, the kind where a Priyanka Chopra or a Sunny Leone is always around to perform an item number? It’s impossible not to have these thoughts seeing John Abraham play Manya Surve in Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala, which is set in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, a time when a gym meant a skipping rope and a set of barbells. It’s impossible not to have these thoughts because Abraham’s body is stretched across the screen at every opportunity, and because if you didn’t look at that body, you’d be forced to concentrate on his rhetoric. Imagine The Incredible Hulk quoting Yeats and you’ll know what I mean.
It doesn’t help that Manoj Bajpai is at hand to show exactly how this rhetoric should be delivered. The film is about Mumbai police’s first registered encounter, which resulted in Surve’s death, and Bajpai plays a rival gangster, Zubair Haskar, who sometimes works with the police. When a cop asks him to clean up the city, he smiles and says, “Jis safai ki baat aap kar rahe ho, usey sadkon mein sabun ka pani nahin, khoon bahega.” This is pulp prose at its most purple, and Bajpai delivers it in a matter-of-fact manner. He knows that the line is already laced with gunpowder – there’s no need for him to blow up as well. Abraham, on the other hand, sweats and strains and growls each utterance through a hoarse throat, as if afraid of not being heard by the audience member in the last row. It’s hard to take him seriously, and the film never becomes anything more than a proficiently made cops-and-robbers thriller.
That, in itself, is not a bad reason for a movie to exist, especially given Gupta’s penchant for staging stylish mayhem, but I expected more texture, more emotional grandeur – after all, these are real-life events (adapted from the account by S Hussain Zaidi, Dongri to Dubai). When we see Deewar, we see it as the story of a man first, a gangster only later. He doesn’t just carry around guns but also scars. Surve, here, is shown to be sinned against, at first, but he’s hardly allowed moments of introspection – not when there’s another juicy line of dialogue to be delivered, anticipating whistles and applause. We feel nothing for him. It’s harder to buy Tusshar Kapoor as a gangster, when he seems content clowning round. (Sample line as he enters a kotha: “Main woh Bruce hoon jo aath saal se lee nahin.”) Anil Kapoor chips in with his characteristic intensity, and the film’s strangest sight is its imagining of Kangna Ranaut as Rekha. The resemblance is uncanny. Then she opens her mouth and shrieks, and the illusion is gone.
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