Monday, October 6, 2014

Ek Villain (2014)

Once upon a time in Bollywood, plagiarist Indian director Mohit Suri and his team of writers rummaged through their foreign film DVD collection and this time around, chose South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon's grisly, gory, bone-chilling serial killer thriller, "I Saw the Devil" (2010) as the next victim of their butchery. Suri is already credited with directing "Awarapan" (2007), a copy of another Kim Jee-woon film, "A Bittersweet Life" (2005) and "Murder 2" (2011), a copy of Na Hong-jin's "The Chaser" (2008).

It wouldn't be farfetched to think that Suri and team sat over lunch one day, and laughed about how Indian audiences are all ignorant fools, and may not be aware of the original material they shamelessly lift their ideas from. Moreover, Kim Jee-woon's "I Saw the Devil", is the kind of film that many may simply avoid, given its disturbing content and ultraviolent nature. And that was probably the kind of environment and sentiment with which the unfortunate massacre of Kim Jee-woon's film took place, and a Bollywoodized, dumbed down version took shape.

And so the work began on the new, edgy, Bhatt style Bollywood thriller, except this time, the production house responsible is Balaji Motion Pictures. It was impossible for these folks to recreate a product as raw, unflinching, and primal as "I Saw the Devil" and so they chose not to stay faithful to the original script or characters, and toned down the violence to a large extent. The central plot, however, remains the same. The protagonist's wife is murdered by a dangerous psychopathic killer. He tracks down the perpetrator and subjects him to a deadly game of torture in which he tracks the killer's every move, thwarts his future attempts at crime, physically assaults and badly injures him, but keeps him alive and even leaves back some cash for him to get his injuries treated! The intention being, to make the killer suffer the same amount of pain and brutality that he inflicts upon his victims.

The original film had a rather straightforward story, with the thrills coming from taut writing, an exciting cat-and-mouse/hunter-and-prey chase game, a raw, realistic depiction of brutal violence along with some twists and turns at the right places, clubbed with terrific acting performances from the two leads. With today's fresh faces on board, an inherent tendency to portray all characters in the sympathetic light, and to drive home the film's cheesy title, we are served "Ek Villain", a ham and cheese sandwich with some Bollywood masala, sugar, spice and a liberal dose of salt in the form of schmaltzy melodrama.

Enter Aisha (Shraddha Kapoor) the overacting, ultra talkative, bubbly, chirpy teller of jokes who gets bumped off in the very beginning by a cloaked stranger. The cloak is actually a raincoat, and makes the killer look like the grim reaper, except this one has a screwdriver in his hand, instead of a scythe. So irritating is Aisha in her first scene, that we are somewhat glad that she is killed off in the first few minutes. But no! We enter flashback mode. All characters get their flashbacks and back stories and the actual plot takes its own sweet time to come to the forefront. The flashbacks enter further flashbacks, and the screenplay meanders, eventually losing its focus on the plot, rendering it secondary.

In line with the Bollywood fixation of creating sympathetic character portrayals, via flashbacks, we learn that the protagonist, Guru (Siddharth Malhotra) is a hardened criminal henchman of Goan gangster Caesar (Remo Fernandes), but as cliche would have it, it is circumstance and a tragic, dark past that made him a criminal. 

His girlfriend and wife Aisha is all exuberant and an epitome of unlimited happiness, but all the over-the-top joyousness is in fact hiding the harsh reality that she is suffering from an unnamed terminal illness and is going to die soon (Yawn! Did we really need an "Anand" (1971) in this?). She even maintains a bucket list, in which one of her desires is to get a couple of old lovers married in a sweet, syrupy wedding ceremony, a la "Lage Raho Munnabhai" (2006). There are other tasks, which her lover helps her fulfill, amid lots of sappy songs and awkwardly tear-jerking moments.

Which brings us to the killer, the ultra cold, ruthless, screwdriver driller killer Rakesh (Riteish Deshmukh), who is also a victim of circumstance. Guess what his circumstance is? A nagging wife! Yes, believe it or not, it is a perennially petulant wife, a low self esteem and supposed incompetence, stemming from his middle class roots that makes him a misogynist and invokes the killer in him. Any woman who even so much as makes a slight complaint about anything at all, gets screwed by his, gets killed by his screwdriver that is! But the killer likes to fancy dress himself up with the black cloak of death before he does so, and during his victims' final dying moments, he finds enough time to break into monologues about how frustrated he is at home, and how he cannot do anything to his wife and also loves her very much, but has to release his pent up emotions somehow!

He carries home with him a souvenir after each killing. One such souvenir is a paper fan/windmill which you can find on any Mumbai chowpatti (beach), but our genius Sherlock of a hero, Guru just runs into a little boy carrying such a fan, instantly recognizes it as being one crafted by his lady love, and voila, the killer is found! The boy happens to be Rakesh's son. Easy peasy...and in a city inhabited by 20 million people! Guru, the hunter finds his prey Rakesh, and the game of torture begins but once again meanders, thanks to a shifting focus, and secondary characters who are forced into the narrative, each with their own contrived motivation for their actions.

The cop is using Guru to get his hands on Caesar; Caesar wants his top guy back, so he intervenes in the whole drama, and some other ludicrous happenings continue to unfold in front of our eyes. Suri casts the most hilariously irksome clown on the planet, Kamaal R. Khan as Brijesh, another misogynist wife-hitter who preaches misogyny to Rakesh but looks and talks like a complete dork and all you want to do is just strangle him to death!

Ditto for Remo Fernandes who hams it up and it is not clear whether he has a problem with his Hindi or that's the accent that was demanded of him. Prachi Desai appears in a mandatory, thankless item number set in some dance bar in Mira Road in the Thane district. She doesn't even get enough footage in her sole song, as the camera shifts to scenes elsewhere while it is in progress.

Physics defying plunges and fights follow, clubbed with logical holes. Rakesh who falls from the same height as does Aisha in her fatal fall, survives to even pick up a huge rock and deliver more long monologues about how he will eventually triumph as the hero of their tortuous tale. Dialog is often repeated from memory or flashbacks, some of it quite didactic as well, to hammer across some philosophies that the director doesn't believe his audiences would understand if made to hear only once. The biggest problem in the script lies in completely neglecting the electronic tracking device that the protagonist plants in the body of the antagonist in the original film. This device helps him follow the killer's every move. There is no such device in "Ek Villain", and yet, Guru manages to somehow reach Rakesh at the scene of a crime in the nick of time. It is all appalling to say the least!

Siddharth Malhotra tries hard as the brooding hero/villain combination, but doesn't always succeed except in a couple of scenes, in displaying some good acting chops. For the major part, his act appears forced. Shraddha Kapoor either whines or goes in the chatter mode. While she does a good job of emoting, she mostly irritates when she opens her mouth. 

It is Riteish Deshmukh who delivers in the acting department, with his intense, expressive eyes and range of extreme emotions from the silent, pensive loser at the receiving end, to the volatile, violent killer. The actor is no match for the devilishly frightening Choi Min-sik in the original, but he surely shines here, with a reinvented image, given his overused comical side in several trashy Bollywood comedies.

"Ek Villain" is the kind of film that makes you stare at the screen in disbelief and occasionally roll your eyes. It is the kind of film that makes you laugh every once in a while, despite its grave nature, and makes you cringe, thanks to its stilted dialog. It is the kind of film that makes you look at your watch and induces a yawn, despite a modest running time of 120 minutes. And for someone who really likes and admires the South Korean original, it's a travesty that is downright insulting.

Score: 2/10

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