“Munna Michael”… An unfocused, unremarkable, but also un-terrible Tiger Shroff vehicle

Posted on July 24, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Munna Michael is the third collaboration between star Tiger Shroff and director Sabbir Khan, and their single-mindedness is admirable. They pick stories that will resonate with single-screen audiences. Their first film together, Heropanti, was a remake of the Telugu blockbuster Parugu. Baaghi, the follow-up, was loosely based on another Telugu blockbuster, Varsham. The originals are “mass” movies. Translation: If you’re intrigued by the idea of lipstick under a burkha, you may want to stay far away.

Munna Michael appears to be a pastiche film, harking back to tropes from Hindi cinema before it became cool and began to be called Bollywood. It opens in a Mumbai studio, with a recreation of the choreography of Husn hai suhana, from Coolie. No 1. The glittering extras do that step where they place one hand behind the head, the other on the stomach, thrust the hip forward, and mimic the biological process Pahlaj Nihalani won’t allow to be shown on screen. Michael (Ronit Roy) is one of those extras. As pack-up is announced, he’s fired. Too old, they say. Two left feet, I say.

In case you don’t realise from his name that Michael is Christian, the film hits us with other clues. He wears his hair long, keeps sipping from a bottle of booze, keeps talking about god. Is Sabbir Khan winking at those older films, the way Farah Khan does, or is he seriously mistaking caricature for character? I couldn’t tell. On the way home, Michael finds a baby abandoned near a garbage bin. He brings it home, and discovers the only way to keep the child from crying is to play music that sounds like Michael Jackson’s music because playing the original songs would mean shelling out money to the copyright holders.

Through the course of an amusingly choreographed title song, Munna (Tiger Shroff) grows up to be a dancer who prefers MACHO-brand banians, but Michael wants him to settle into a stable corporate job – and we think this is the conflict that will drive the story. Munna, expectedly, moves to Delhi, pretends to be in a blue-collar job, all the while nursing his dancing ambitions. So we await the scene where Michael makes a surprise visit, discovers Munna has been lying to him, lurches around with a hand clutching his chest….

But the film gets bored and shifts to other conflicts, and I must say that in its own harebrained way, Munna Michael manages to remain pretty unpredictable – simply because watching a crazy-cocktail mix of many underwhelming narratives is preferable to watching one. Munna runs afoul of Mahinder (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a hotel owner who behaves like a gangster, and we think this conflict is going to drive the story. But no, Mahinder begins to like Munna and asks him teach him dance, so he can impress a dancer named Dolly (Nidhhi Agerwal). Over a meal, Mahinder slashes a knife across his palm and Tiger’s, and they shake hands and become blood brothers. Mahinder asks Munna to courier his gifts (and his love) to Dolly. He must not have watched much Hindi cinema.

So now, the film begins to look like Dostana, the hetero version, with Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha. Munna hides from Mahinder – I just realised that all the men in this story have names beginning with ‘M’ – the fact that he’s in love with Dolly. But even this isn’t the conflict the film settles on. For Dolly dreams of winning a reality show, Munna Michael’s sole concession to the modern day. Along with Tiger Shroff’s body. We see his abs before we see his face, and when he strikes a shirtless pose, even his pinkie seems to have been through a gruelling regime of push-ups.

Farah Khan appears as a judge on the reality show, and this is her finest performance yet – she manages to keep a straight face as Munna Michael keeps getting increasingly preposterous, all the way to this howler of a climax: Will Munna be able to dance in the finals, with Dolly, despite the bullet lodged in his thigh? The song has the phrase “zameen pe kaanch,” and you may wonder if this isn’t a hat tip to older numbers where villains broke glass bottles on the ground and asked Hema Malini to dance. If Sabbir Khan had the verve of Farah Khan, Munna Michael might have become the film Om Shanti Om should have been.

There are hints that these characters are more layered than they seem. Munna, trying to smuggle Dolly back to Mahinder, slips a sleeping pill into her drink. He’s placing friendship over love. But unlike older heroines caught in the love-triangle tug-of-war, Dolly – who ran away from home, and yearns to be her daddy’s little girl again – doesn’t let the men decide who ends up with her. She tells Mahinder, “Shoot me if you want, but I love someone else.” She doesn’t need Munna standing up for her at the end, saying, “Aurat koi zameen ka tukda nahin…” (A woman is not a piece of land.)

And Mahinder, it turns out, is already married. We never see his wife’s face, and he says he was forced into this marriage. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Mahinder not just as a comic villain, but also as a petulant child. When Dolly runs away, he wails that no one will love her the way he does. He’s really just throwing a mighty big tantrum that his favourite toy has gone missing.

It’s fun to see this actor in this zone. He gets an action scene early on, where he brings down a brick on a man’s face and smashes another man into a concrete mixer. Later, he dances to Gandi baat, a bit that’s funny not just because of his non-dancer moves, but because we remember the contrast with the original, which had Shahid Kapoor and Prabhu Deva, two of our most sublime dancers. Nawazuddin’s wiry shape adds to the comedy. He isn’t built like a “villain.” Or a dancer.

When an actor throws himself into a role with so much gusto, you wish the role treated him with an equal amount of respect. It’s one thing to see Tiger Shroff as a cardboard character – he’s been hired mainly because he has those extraordinarily balletic moves. It’s quite another thing to see Nawazuddin unable to do much after a point – for he’s been hired because he’s an actor.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi