Hindi movie villains have said some pretty weird things over the years. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a catchphrase as un-catchy as the one Digvijay Patil (Suman Talwar) wields in Gabbar Is Back. “I am a brand,” he yells time and again. With a statement of villainy this underwhelming, you’d expect our hero to top it easily. Not so. “I am a bigger brand than you,” Akshay Kumar yells back. They start fighting after this exchange, though they could just as easily have compared stock prices.
Gabbar’s back. Sort of, anyway. Kumar plays a vigilante hero operating under this epochal alias. He has a beard. He utters a couple of Amjad Khan’s lines from Sholay. And that’s it, really. Kumar and his director, Krish (Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi), are utilizing Hindi cinema’s best-known villain as a crutch, using his outsize personality to obscure the fact that they have little of their own. Apart from being pathetic, theft of this sort is also self-defeating. Every time the film references Gabbar, it only serves to remind the audience of what they’re missing.
The number of Bollywood films expressing disgust with the state of the nation and proposing vigilante solutions has increased markedly in recent years. A key film was Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday! (2008), which traded in fears of another terrorist bombing; its combination of self-justified anger and quick-fix solutions has been borrowed by films less skilfully manipulative. Gabbar’s methods are similar to those adopted by Randeep Hooda’s gang in Ungli (2014): Identify wrongdoers, kidnap and try them. But in an upping of the ante that is disturbing even in a film this ridiculous, Gabbar goes ahead and kills the most corrupt ones. However, unlike NH10 or Badlapur, which dealt head-on with the messiness of taking the law into one’s own hands, Gabbar Is Back is cartoon activism at best.
No one watches an Akshay Kumar film for the writing, but Gabbar Is Back (story by A.R. Murugadoss, additional screenplay and dialogues by Rajat Arora) is in a class by itself. “Our system is like an infant’s diaper,” Gabbar deadpans to the camera (Kumar delivers nearly half his lines this way). “Get me information on all the Adityas in the country,” Talwar’s baddie demands unreasonably. “Who is Gabbar?” a police inspector asks, staring at a chart with a blank face and a “?” sign on it. “Question mark.”
Who green-lights rubbish like this? Question mark.
This review appeared in Mint.