Right away let’s establish one thing, and this will likely hold true for a few years at least: Popular Indian cinema is going to milk patriotism and pride in the nation as much as it can, given the direction in which national discourse has swung. (Check your WhatsApp forwards for a quick confirmation.)
No genre of popular cinema is going to tap into this more than action entertainers, because nationalism is a natural ally of grandiose masculinity and brute physical power, attributes that we’re trying to ascribe to a nation we, strangely enough, call our ‘Motherland’.
Expectedly, given that it gets to play with a big action star as a cop, Force 2 does it with élan.
At one point John Abraham’s ACP Yashvardhan declares that the days are gone when India couldn’t carry out covert operations on foreign soil. ‘Ab hum ghus ke maarte hain’, he exclaims. Translation: ‘Now, we barge in and kill our enemies!’ (Does anyone else feel that ‘surgical strike’ has the potential to be a smashing new drinking game? Surely we deserve a pun on ‘shot’.)
Once you accept that we’re going to see this quite often now — at least until India (as a collective consciousness) has more important things to worry about than projecting a strong masculine image to the world — and once you accept that cinema is going to assimilate popular culture in order to maximise footfalls and profit, you might just find Force 2 to be a refreshingly decent actioner, unlike the ludicrously overcooked action films Hindi cinema in particular frequently subjects us to. (I’m looking at you, Dilwale and Shivaay.)
For starters, Force 2 is set in a world where everyone doesn’t speak Hindi (imagine). The film is based primarily in Budapest, and mercifully, Hungarians and other foreign nationals in the film get to keep their language and not converse in awkward Hindi with the Indian lead pair. The foreign language lines are subtitled in Hindi, which is encouraging. It’s a sign of not taking the audience for granted, while also ensuring that the audience does not remain a passive viewer throughout. (In general, this would be a good time to brush up on our Hindi reading abilities, please note.)
This trait, of not taking the audience for granted, runs through the film.
The plot itself is standard international espionage fare for a seasoned viewer of Hollywood’s self-aggrandising CIA movies. (Stories of the CIA blatantly using Hollywood, for something that goes beyond even propaganda, make for a fun read if you love conspiracy theories.) However, beyond that, the film actually does a good job of not dumbing everything down.
In fact, Force 2 can well be compared with any commercial film with an espionage backdrop from anywhere in the world, and it would hold its own because at the heart of it, the film’s intent is clear. There exist different types of patriotism, and even service to one’s nation cannot be seen through a monochrome prism. It blurs the lines between what we call ‘massy’ and ‘classy’, keeps the setting contemporary, and serves up a fairly engaging plot all the way till the end.
Credit for this must go to director Abhinay Deo, who has always displayed a sensibility that is far more evolved than most other filmmakers. Incidentally, he happens to be one of India’s finest advertising filmmakers. He has made plenty ads over the years that showcase his ability to use the visual medium effectively without having to spell everything out. Watch one particular scene early in the film, where an Indian RAW agent is assassinated while riding a motorbike. It is a brutal scene that eschews gore in favour of pure imagery to make its point.
The hiccups in Force 2’s screenplay mostly come from trying to straddle that line between what’s right and what sells, and this is something even the most hardened cynic must grant to at least the producer of the film.
So, you have an Indian police officer appointing himself for a mission abroad involving the death of RAW agents. You have a perfectly made-up woman, from RAW no less, who partners with him on this mission. And you have a charming, baby-faced villain who oozes snarky charm. A few convenient liberties here and there are bumps in a film that otherwise keeps you interested for the most.
A special mention for John Abraham here.
The man does best in roles where he doesn’t have to emote, so he sticks to them. Back in 2013, when the Congress was in power, he co-produced and starred in Madras Café, which took a more than sympathetic view of (if not one that was downright in favour of) Rajiv Gandhi. This year alone, he has had Dishoom and Force 2, both of which firmly take a position aligned with the current government’s rhetoric.
Here’s a man who plays his cards right, and it explains why he’s still able to continuously churn out films as producer and solo lead, even if some of them don’t emerge winners at the box office.
Credit for Force 2 must go to the man who is at the receiving end of enough jokes about his acting talent, or lack thereof. Yes, we’re still a long way off from giving the world a global action film that we can be proud of, but Force 2 seems like a surgical baby-strike in the right direction.