As a Tamilian, I’m going to be nursing nightmares for years about Baaghi, for the film features an act of murder using… poisoned curd rice. To those of you who don’t get it, let me attempt an explanation: this is the gastronomic equivalent of the scene in Khakee where Akshay Kumar is betrayed by Aishwarya Rai. That such perfection, an object of such heart-bursting love, could bear within it such malice – ah, the very thought. But the point is, even without the curd rice, there’s a lot of South Indianness in Baaghi. You have, for instance, the elderly gent going “Rama Rama,” which, in Bollywood-ese, means he belongs to one of the four Southern states. (The answer to his character’s “what is my motivation?” question would be, “You eat idlis.”) Then you have Kerala, showcased in all its god’s-own-country splendour. Also, the film is essentially a PSA for kalaripayattu.
Above all, Baaghi is a loose remake of the Telugu blockbuster Varsham, which isn’t all that surprising given that Heropanti, the last time director Sabbir Khan and hero Tiger Shroff came together, was a remake of the Telugu blockbuster Parugu. It’s not fashionable in these multiplex times to like this kind of movie, and I’m not saying these are great films either. But it’s refreshing to see a young Bollywood star announce, through the selection of his films, that he’s targeting the increasingly neglected single-screen audiences. Why is this important? Because the “mass movie” is our own home-grown cinema, and with films like Heropanti and Baaghi, we’re seeing hipper versions of the mass movies we grew up with.
Translation: the focus is on the USP, the action. A love duet is interrupted by a blow to the head. The comedy track (with a blind cabbie!) is perfunctorily done away with – the cabbie quickly becomes the hero’s helper in the latter’s mission to retrieve the abducted heroine (Shraddha Kapoor). In the film’s words, he becomes a Hanuman, the villain (Sudheer Babu) is Raavan, and the hero has to infiltrate a raakshas-filled Lanka, which is now a multi-storey building in Bangkok. That’s what mass movies do all the time. They draw from the bottomless wells of myth. Even the heroine’s name sounds like something from the Ramayana. It’s Sia – when spelt out, it looks like one of those nameplates from which a letter fell off. These films also draw from the bottomless wells of other people’s imagination, the people who made The Raid: Redemption and The Karate Kid and the Bruce Lee movies.
You just wish that they’d put some effort into fleshing out the emotional beats. We don’t ask for logic in these films, but when a revered teacher dies, we want to embrace the death with our hearts. We want to weep with the hero. The writing is downright lazy. The hero accepts this mission – the heroine is his ex – only because he needs money to save a mute kid. But what happened, exactly, to the kid? Why not make the heroine’s discovery of her father’s treachery more dramatic? And why describe the hero as a rebel? Just because the film’s title says so? We get a couple of laughable shots in which he sticks a cigarette into his mouth and grips a can of beer, but what is he rebelling against? These slices of dramatic steaks are drained of all blood. Though I must admit a huge muahahaha erupted from me at the prospect of Hindi audiences being saddled with a one-hundred-percent mass-movie-style loosu ponnu. Sia loves rain. She talks to raindrops. Or maybe she talks to clouds. Why have you stopped? Won’t you send a little more rain my way? I hear Hansika Motwani is negotiating hard for the Tamil rights.
But once the film gets going – and it really does, in the second half – it’s pretty single-minded. This is the star vehicle Heropanti should have been. Shroff is a strange (in an interesting way) presence. His body is all macho the way we define it today – he seems to have sprouted muscles that have yet to be discovered – but neck up, his face is shy, gentle, even feminine (in an interesting way). He looks like someone from the pages of an Italian fashion magazine, from one of those black-and-white ads for an Armani perfume, an inscrutable hunk by the seashore, staring at something in the horizon. You can’t see this man in a mass movie at all, but every time the film shifts into action gear, Shroff comes into his own. The action in Baaghi works because the technical team knows how to choreograph and shoot and cut action, but also because Shroff is a completely convincing action hero. Watching him climb and kick and vault over walls, you may be reminded of how sublimely Bruce Lee moved. Even while breaking a bad guy’s bones, he seems to be hearing Swan Lake inside his head.
- Baaghi = rebel
- raakshas = demon
- kalaripayattu = see here
- Khakee = see here and here
- Heropanti = see here
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.