John Woo’s ‘The Killer’, ‘War’ and why ‘masala’ cinema can be taken as seriously as any other ‘genre’

Posted on October 10, 2019


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War is turning out to be a huge hit. Given the stars – Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff – and the popcorn-friendly genre, it’s probably not that unexpected a phenomenon. But this also happens to be a very well-written film (the screenplay is by Siddharth Anand, the director, and Shridhar Raghavan) – and that’s unusual for this genre. By well-written, I mean there are emotional underpinnings at every step. It’s not just about a mega-villain threatening to destroy the world, like in the earlier Bond adventures, starring Sean Connery and Roger Moore. War is a little more like the ones with Daniel Craig. Something more personal is at stake. If you want to watch it as just a “fun” movie, it delivers. But if you want to read it as a film about a patriot (Khalid, played by Tiger Shroff) trying to atone for the sins of his father, who betrayed the nation, then there’s that, too.

But for the purposes of this column about foreign cinema, let me steer the conversation to the scene where we discover that Kabir (Hrithik Roshan), the man who killed Khalid’s traitorous father, is now his boss. Their first meeting, unsurprisingly, does not go well. But what made me perk up was the bit where Kabir tells Khalid how he killed his father. “First, I shot him in the right eye, and then, in the left eye.” (Okay, maybe it was the other way around, but you get the point.) This is the fate that befalls the protagonist of John Woo’s The Killer (1989), one of the seminal action classics of Hong Kong cinema. (Fun fact: That film was produced by Tsui Hark, director of the Once Upon a Time in China and Detective Dee series.)

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