Monday, May 9, 2016

Baaghi: Review

When Baaghi’s trailers arrived in March, everyone was surprised to note similarities between it and the 2012 Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption. After all, Indian action cinema is known for its striking originality and, in those rare cases where inspiration is found elsewhere, its scrupulousness in acknowledging sources. So what if both films involve a high-rise with trained killers on every floor and a martial arts expert fighting his way up? The Raid was a distillation of brutal movement and impact. Baaghi has songs and dances and a love story. Entirely different.

In the end, the surprise isn’t how blatantly The Raid is copied, but the surprising effectiveness of those scenes. They only make up around 20 minutes of a 150-minute film and while they cannot match the sustained ferocity of Gareth Evans’ sequences, they have a respect for spatial geography and a tendency to show blows and kicks delivered (rather than cutting at the moment of impact), which is rare for Indian action cinema. Tiger Shroff is competent at best as a lover, a comic and a dramatic actor, but he’s quite a sight when he’s fighting onscreen. The scenes with him kicking and punching his way to the top of the building are gritty fun despite being completely derivative. But to see these, you have to sit through the rest of the film, which is hardly fair.

In short, then: rebellious Ronny (Shroff) and film actor Siya (Shraddha Kapoor) meet on a train bound for Kerala. They banter (not very intelligently) and begin to fall in love. He joins a kalaripayattu academy run by Guruswamy (Shaurya Bhardwaj), whose son, Raghav (Sudheer Babu), also falls for Siya. No sooner has Ronny become a martial arts pro than Raghav kidnaps Siya and whisks her off to Bangkok (director Sabbir Khan has said that his inspiration was the Ramayana, not The Raid). Two hours later, having endured Kapoor’s aren’t-I-just-precious routine, Babu’s very good impression of a block of wood with a smirk painted on it and a mute child who isn’t mute enough, we reach the high-rise.

It’s a quick jog to the end from there on, and the best stretch of the film. It’s nice to see an Indian film sling a few convincing action scenes together, yet it’s also depressing to think that we’d probably never have been able to work out such sequences if there hadn’t been a ready template. But then, that’s what we do best: imitate a superior product and package it as rebellion.

This review appeared in Mint.

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