To know the kind of filmmaker AR Murugadoss is, you only need the scene from Akira (a mostly faithful remake of the Tamil sleeper hit Mounaguru), where the victim of an acid attack sees herself in the mirror after her bandages come off. The people around her – family, friends – don’t make the slightest effort to be considerate. (I mean, they have to have an idea what she’s going to look like, no?) They scream as though they’ve set eyes on the creature from the Alien movies. The girl is distraught. She wants to die. But then, she meets other acid-attack victims. They convince her that life can (and will) go on. They smile. She smiles. The audience is invited to smile too – but I wanted to hurl. This is Murugadoss’s idea of a socially responsible, heart-warming moment. But not before impressing on us what a monster this girl now looks like, someone who, apparently, can only find acceptance amongst others like her. “Crude” doesn’t begin to describe this scene, or the decision to make a mental-asylum inmate a kinnar, a woman trapped in a man’s body. On the surface, this suggests inclusiveness. But it’s just a sensational gimmick, something to add “freshness,” because a regular female character would be soooo vanilla.
Akira comes with a socially responsible, heart-warming twist too: the protagonist is now a woman (Sonakshi Sinha). Murugadoss pads out the Tamil story to include the character’s childhood – and you can see why. No one bats an eyelid when the hero beats up a dozen opponents, but with a heroine, the director probably felt some explanation was needed. So we get Akira as a school-goer, shaped by her high-minded father (Atul Kulkarni). When she’s slapped by a rowdy, the father takes her to a martial arts class, right next to the class where other girls learn dance. Akira punches the air a few times, and she’s deemed ready to rain blows on eve-teasers and acid-attackers. The father comes off as some kind of Shaolin master, pushing his ward towards extraordinarily dangerous situations, watching her take on men twice her size, knowing full well she can handle it. And we get something that was missing in Mounaguru: a reason for the protagonist’s taciturn, almost asocial behaviour. One of the men Akira lays low has connections, and he has her sent to a correction facility for children. This sort of thing can do a number on one’s psyche.
In concept, the sex change works. For one, we get a bimbo-hero instead of a bimbette-heroine. (Amit Sadh bravely takes on what may be the most thankless role on screen this year. He doesn’t even get a duet!) And the drama is amped up too, for it’s now a woman versus four corrupt and very dangerous cops (they’ve stumbled on a big bag of cash, and there’s an incriminating video that goes missing, and they think Akira has something to do with it, and… It’s a convoluted tale, and I must say it is nice to see a non-massy Tamil movie being remade in Hindi). But Akira also battles women – a sister-in-law who doesn’t want her staying with them, and a punkette at college determined to make her life hell. But Murugadoss doesn’t do subtle psychological dimensions. He’s after in-your-face plot points, and he wants you to know you’re getting your money’s worth. The low-budget, indie vibe that contributed so much to the gritty atmosphere in the original is sacrificed for big-budget razzle-dazzle – everything looks like a set. The film is very broadly staged, like something out of the 1990s – or a TV serial of today.
The twists and turns are less interesting this time around – and I couldn’t decide if it was because I knew the story, or because things simply aren’t done as well. Take the pregnant cop (Konkona Sen Sharma). She stood out in Mounaguru because she was the sole woman in a sea of men. It was wonderful to see her plodding along, getting to the bottom of things with unglamorous detective work. But the character here isn’t as powerful, probably because Akira has already cornered the “woman-against-men” niche. Sonakshi Sinha wears a permanent scowl, and the action is too generic to make her stand out. She isn’t a character. She’s a placard that reads “Woman-centric Action Movie.” By the end, Murugadoss hilariously positions her as a Christ figure, and in case we didn’t get this from the visual of Akira and Jesus-on-the-cross in the same frame, Akira helpfully says she’s been nailed to a cross. The only juice in the film comes from Anurag Kashyap, who plays one of the cops, whose aides keep messing up. Unlike John Vijay in the Tamil version, who kept hitting the same hammy notes, Kashyap plays this villain like a father increasingly exasperated with his idiot sons. He seethes beautifully.
- Mounaguru = 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.