Saturday, May 30, 2020

Baaghi 3: Review

When Agra’s finest, Vikram (Riteish Deshmukh), announces that he’s being sent to Syria, his sister-in-law, Siya (Shraddha Kapoor), says, how amazing, it’ll be like a paid holiday. “No, you idiot, it’s incredibly dangerous," says Ronnie (Tiger Shroff), Vikram’s younger brother. “The country has been torn apart by civil war, multiple factions vying for control, a dozen other countries involved, over 400,000 dead, millions of refugees…"

Would that it were so. Even the rocks-for-brains Baaghi franchise must know that Syria’s been devastated by unrelenting violence for almost a decade now. But it doesn’t care. No sooner has Vikram landed there than he’s kidnapped by an ISIS-like militia. Ronnie’s response, over in India, is: “I’ll wipe your nation off the goddamn map."

Threatening a violence-stricken nation with extermination is a special kind of low, but the film’s moral compass is broken in smaller ways as well. For the first hour or so, all we see is muscle-bound Ronnie swooping in at the last moment to save his inept sibling from local criminals. In one scene, the brothers plan things such that an older cop whose daughter was murdered is given a chance to shoot the killer in public, in broad daylight. He takes the shot, of course – Bollywood loves a good encounter killing – and the scene ends with violins and Shroff smiling benevolently.

The Baaghi films aren’t sequels, but they’re basically the same: someone close to Tiger is threatened, and he responds by killing his way to the source. After fighting a building in the first film and an army in the second, his enemy this time is ostensibly Abu Jalal (Jameel Khoury) and his followers – who kidnap people from India and Pakistan to use as human bombs in their own land, which seems like a lot of effort. But as the film keeps reiterating, Ronnie’s up against a country, as if all of Syria is standing in his way.

As his pairing with Hrithik Roshan in War showed, Shroff really needs a partner to liven up the dull, dutiful action figures he plays. We know by now that he can kick and dance and contort better than most, but there’s no evidence of further tricks up his sleeve (not that there are sleeves). Kapoor turns up for songs and bad comedy and lying to her pregnant sister about her husband being held by extremists.

All I’ll say about the writing is that gumrah is rhymed with Bumrah. It’s only been a month since Street Dancer 3D. If films with Farhad Samji dialogue must exist, could they at least be distributed evenly through the year?

As Shroff Ramboed his way to his brother, I wondered if even director Ahmed Khan knew why his film was unfolding in Syria. There isn’t a single scene that’s politically or culturally specific; Tiger could just as well be taking out tanks and helicopters in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. Someone should make Khan watch Last Men in Aleppo, City of Ghosts, The White Helmets, For Sama, devastating non-fiction films out of Syria, which show a nation on the verge of being wiped off the map.

This review appeared in Mint.

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