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Force 2 is a refreshing action film from John Abraham, despite its faux-patriotism

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’.)

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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.

Force 2 movie review: Slick mix of action, John Abraham, suspense and an appealing villain

It is hard to find a film that does not promise an iota more of anything than what it intends to deliver, and then efficiently delivers on its promise. Force 2 is an intense action flick that serves up slick stunts and technical finesse to support its straight-laced storytelling style.

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Director Abhinay Deo’s latest film is a sequel to Nishikant Kamat’s Force (2011), which starred John Abraham and Genelia D’souza. That film in turn was a remake of the 2003 Tamil blockbuster Kaakha Kaakha directed by Gautham Menon, starring Suriya Sivakumar and Jyothika.

Force did not have Kaakha Kaakha’s emotional heft, but it did have gripping, not-before-seen action plus a villain worth living and dying for. Its Achilles heel was the casting of the heroine. Four years since Force, the franchise repeats the mix, giving us gripping action once again, a solid villain and a contentious heroine.

Abraham is back in Force 2 as a well-intentioned Mumbai policeman who does not play by the book because the book, in his opinion, can tie a good cop down. In the years since Yashvardhan lost his wife (played by D’souza) in the first film, he has remained as strong-willed, impertinent and determined to vanquish evil as he was back then. When a bunch of agents of the Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) are exterminated in well-planned back-to-back killings, Yash enters the picture to find out why and to prevent further deaths.

The case lands him in beautiful Budapest. His partner and supposed boss in this mission is RAW officer KK, Kamaljit Kaur, played by Sonakshi Sinha. KK is to the always-defiant Yash what chalk is to cheese, so of course they clash repeatedly.

Together, they find themselves up against an antagonist who somehow manages to stay ahead of them every step of the way. Shiv Sharma (Tahir Raj Bhasin) is driven by an unexplained grouse against RAW and India. It is evident from the moment we meet him that Yash and KK will solve the case when they crack the reason for his animosity.

The purposefulness of this film’s writing is both its strength and its weakness. Parveez Shaikh and Jasmeet K. Reen are here to entertain us with suspense and unrelenting skirmishes – involving wit, guns and fisticuffs – and they do that well. If only they had paid more attention to the characterisation of Yash and KK, Force 2 would have been more than just that.

Yash relies almost entirely on our pre-existing investment in him from the previous film, on Abraham’s dimpled charm and the actor’s unapologetic willingness to be objectified without denting his dignity in the way Hindi cinema tends to do with women. However, we do not see enough of the character’s journey here, nothing much to add to the Yash we already know from Force.

The film’s potentially most interesting element is the most problematic. Leading ladies in Hindi cinema are rarely in positions of authority over leading men, and they are certainly rarely at the centre of hard-core action cinema. KK, then, is a fascinating proposition. Having envisioned her though, the writers give her short shrift.

Sections of Bollywood these days are taking a long, hard look at the way women have been straitjacketed in films since the 1970s. While some are ushering in genuine change, too many are struggling to pull themselves out of the morass of their own misogyny. Sinha earlier this year starred in Akira, which made a woman the central figure in an all-out action-reliant drama but then spent so little time on fleshing her out as a human being, that the most engaging character in the film turned out to be her arch enemy – who was a man … of course. Deo & Co are better in the sense that their KK is not a one-line concept note. We do get to see her for the person that she is. Still, she is a RAW agent who screws up on an important assignment in a way you know the male lead of this kind of Hindi film would not, and when it comes to the crunch, she still needs a man to be decisive on her behalf and have the last word.

The saving grace of the Yash-KK equation is that despite the hint of a romance between them, the film does not go too far in that direction. This is a good thing, since Sinha looks like a child in comparison with Abraham. The actress does a fair job of what she is given to do, but I wish she had been given more to do and the screenplay had been less patronising towards KK.

The best written character in Force 2 is Shiv Sharma, a criminal who is both cold-blooded and nuanced, a man we can fear yet empathise with without the film getting too maudlin in its portrayal of him. Tahir Raj Bhasin is wonderfully controlled in his execution of Shiv, making him as intriguing as Vidyut Jamwal’s Vishnu was in Force yet completely different.

Watch: ‘Dishoom’ trailer is action-porn and John, Varun are the cherry on the cake

As soon as we were told that Dishoom stars John Abraham and Varun Dhawan play cops in the film, we already knew who would play the good one, and who would play the bad.

John, playing the stern cop, is like Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, or Sylvester Stallone in Tango and Cash, while Varun Dhawan is the funny/goofy copy a la Chris Tucker or Kurt Russell. It’s a trope that works well in action films, and Rohit Dhawan’s Dishoom maximises this trope to its full potential.

The Dishoom trailer gets straight to the point, and wastes no time. The film revolves around a missing cricketer, and it’s Kabir Shergill (John) and Javed Ansari (Varun)’s job to find him, before a final match. Enter Jacqueline Fernandes, who is also a special agent, but also the token hotness quotient in the film.

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To the film’s credit, John and Varun haven’t escaped the sexualisation (they show off their masculinity and bare abs at any chance they get), so kudos to the makers on not discriminating between genders.

Add a host of action sequences, punches and blows, cars flying that would put Rohit Shetty to shame, and much bravado, and you get the power-packed trailer of Dishoom.

Special mention to Varun Dhawan’s comic timing, that seems to be getting only better with time. In a scene, with Jacqueline, he appears upside and tells her, “I’ve been practising the Spiderman kiss for years. Let’s?” and even though the dialogue is quite appalling, you can’t help but smile.

While the film seems rather predictable, and has its share of all the masala elements to make it a commercial entertainer, there’s something about the film’s no-nonsense plot, which paced quite well, makes us curious to watch it.

Also, welcome back Akshaye Khanna. We’ve missed you dearly.

Rocky Handsome trailer: This is John Abraham’s ‘Welcome Back’ to action

It’s been a very long time since we saw John Abraham on screen. And no, we are not even considering last year’s Welcome Back which was, at best, a jokey trivia.

Absence and abstinence seem to have done wonders to John’s screen presence. In the trailer of Rocky Handsome he is seen back in action, and how! His intensity pulverises every malevolent element including villains who laughs hyena-like at the hero’s discomfiture when a 8-year old girl Nayomi (Diya Chalwad) is kidnapped.

Some of the footage in the new trailer is devoted to John’s mysteriously quiet character, developing a bond with the little girl. Chalwad chatters and asks annoying questions like, ‘Are you a gangster?’ and shares her career plans of becoming a nail artiste, before being kidnapped.

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The emotional detailing in this predominantly action-driven trailer is arresting. John had earlier mentioned that the audience will warm up to his bonding with the little girl the way they had warmed up to Salman Khan’s bonding with little Harshaali Malhotra in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

I don’t know if that is going to happen. Rocky Handsome seems way too violent, too brutal, dark and ominous to be accepted in the same spirit of bonhomie as Barjangi Bhaijaan. John does the loner act effectively, and he fights like a wild animal who knows the only way to survive in the jungle is to hit at your enemies where it hurts them the most.

John is cast in a role of a nowhere man. “Age 30s mein hai , Killing 70s mein…no drugs no criminal record urine saaf,” informed a voiceover in the first trailer.

The new trailer takes on the brisk task of putting forward the plot at hand. John takes on the drug mafia and is seen babysitting a 8-year old. Or wait, is she babysitting him? There is an enticing ambivalence to the characterization that director Nishikant Kamat underscores by using light to shed darkness on the proceedings. The camerawork is showy but not a distraction. This a film designed to grab our attention without resorting to cheap gimmicks.

John is shown doing the kind of action that mixes the martial arts of Bruce Lee with the rapid fire salvos of Jackie Chan and comes up with an interesting stunt concoction. In one shot he somersaults off a highrise and is seen descending with blazing guns.

Impressive. No doubt the action scenes are the highlights of the show, much in the same way as John and director Nishikant Kamat’s last outing in Force. Except this time the action seems to govern the emotions, spinning a lean mean saga .

Oh yes, Shruti Haasan also appears for a romantic song with John. Wonder how Yami Gautam missed out on this one. Yami, for those who entered late, is our cinema’s favourite dead-after-song romantic interest.

Welcome Back review: Anil Kapoor and John Abraham are fun to watch in this silly film

Uday and Majnu are, as someone points out in Welcome Back, the Laurel and Hardy of goondas. They are, to again quote the film, “khule saand“: foolish, stubborn, ridiculous and flatter than cardboard cutouts. But here’s what may come as a surprise: they and Welcome Back are also really, truly funny.

Welcome Back is a straightforward, unabashed copy of Welcome and like the first film, this one wears its stupidity proudly on its sleeve. Just like in Welcome, Uday (Nana Patekar) again discovers he has another half-sister, Ranjana (Shruti Haasan). Majnu (Anil Kapoor) embraces her because any sister of Uday’s is a sister of his and within minutes, circumstances demand that Uday and Majnu organise a wedding for Ranjana. The reformed gangsters want her to marry a good lad from a respectable family.

Of course, nothing is simple in director Anees Bazmee’s world. As a result, Dr Ghungroo (Paresh Rawal) returns, offspring pop out of the woodwork, John Abraham loses his shirt, a mother-daughter duo of con artistes target Uday and Majnu, Shiney Ahuja suffers the ignominy of wearing a candy-pink blazer and Rajpal Yadav protects his and our modesty by wearing nothing but a transistor a la PK. Does any of Welcome Back make sense? Absolutely not. Is any of it realistic or credible? Only if you’re on a diet of nothing but hallucinogens. But who cares as long as Uday, Majnu and Ghungroo are being idiotic on screen?

Nana Patekar, Paresh Rawal, Anil Kapoor and John Abraham in Welcome Back. Image Courtesy: Facebook

Most of the film is so predictable — particularly if you’ve seen Welcome — that there’s no point recounting the plot of Welcome Back. In a nutshell: dons face dons, lovers are kept apart, cons are hatched, and hilarity ensues.

Abraham plays Ajju, a don from Mumbai. He is easy on the eye and inoffensive. Abraham doesn’t have much to do other than look good and flex his muscles from time to time so that at a critical point, Majnu can say of Ajju, “Lagta hai yeh gym mein hi paida hua tha.” (“It’s like he was born in a gym.”) Haasan, Dimple and Ankita Shrivastava all have significant roles in which they’re both flashy and forgettable.

Despite Bazmee sticking to his tried-and-tested formula, there are surprises in Welcome Back. However, fortunately, there aren’t any spoilers because no one knows what happens in the last few seconds of the film. The ending is somewhat literally up in the air.

But here are a few of the doozies that Welcome Back does serve us. Did you think there would be a situation in which you’d watch Naseeruddin Shah on screen and wish he could act more like Feroz Khan? Bazmee also throws in a scene in which Abraham gives a whole new meaning to the term “dry humping” when he leaps from camel hump to camel hump. No one could have seen that coming.

There’s a lot to love in Welcome Back if you don’t expect intelligence from the film. Like a sequence in which Uday and Majnu play antakshari with ‘ghosts’ in a graveyard (with neon tombstones, no less). You get to hear Kapoor singing “My name is Lakhan” after 26 years. There’s also a don named Wanted Bhai who gets a operatic chorus sing “Wanted Bhaaai” each time he makes an entrance. Just to bring this character home, his son’s name is Honey (played by Shiney Ahuja, which makes this role a double whammy of unfortunate names). And let’s not forget the desert chase that involves hovercrafts, skydivers, four-wheel drives, helicopters as well as a random train of camels.

Welcome Back a film that is completely aware of how stupid it is and delights in its idiocy. Bazmee also tucks in funny details for the keen-eyed, like Majnu’s art which is absolutely spectacular. We’re particularly fond of two of his paintings. One shows a horse on top of another (take that MF Husain) and the other is of the Dubai skyline.

Patekar is wonderful as the prone-to-rage Uday. He dances gleefully, packs many punches in his lines and is superb with the slapstick antics that Bazmee demands of him. Giving Patekar company are Kapoor and Rawal. What Kapoor lacks in the calibre department, the age-defying actor makes up for with energy and enthusiasm. As Majnu, Kapoor is dressed as flashily as ever (although Dimple Kapadia’s wardrobe in this film makes Majnu’s Technicolor velvet jackets seem almost sober). He doesn’t make much of an impression when he’s trying to be the menacing bhai, but he’s an excellent foil for Patekar. Rawal pops up intermittently and establishes yet again that he’s one of our most versatile comic actors.

These men are the stars of Welcome Back, but what makes them shine are the dialogues written by Raaj Shaandilyaa. This is Shaandilyaa’s first film and he makes sure everyone in Welcome Back, including extras, get lines that will bring them laughs. Some actors do justice to Shaandilyaa’s writing comedy and maintain an impressively silly tone, while some struggle. Regardless, the lines are funny enough to work despite the actors.

For instance, when a blind man gets a knock on his head and is suddenly able to see again, Uday tells Majnu that it’s pretty impressive how powerful Santoshi Maa is even in the deserts of Dubai. It helps that Patekar is the one entrusted with this line, but it would be funny no matter who said it. At another point, a gangster gives the girl he’s romancing a peck on the cheek and gets slapped. His minions explain to him, “Bhabhi ne aapko Emraan Hashmi samjha aur aap Amol Palekar nikley.” (“She expected you to be Emraan Hashmi and you ended up being Amol Palekar.”)

Unsurprisingly, after intermission, Welcome Back loses some of its steam. This is partly because Bazmee struggles to bring the film to a close and also because the director shifts focus from dialogue to stunts. The action sequences are outlandish in Welcome Back and boast of some of the worst CGI seen in recent times. It’s obvious that Bazmee has ensured the special effects are deliberately awful in the hope that they will draw laughs, but in terms of humour, they don’t hold a candle to the dialogues.

At 153 minutes, Welcome Back is just a shade too long and the ending is a sandstorm of stupidity. But you’ll forgive Bazmee and gang because for at least 120 minutes, this comedy keeps you in splits. Welcome Back might be 2015’s silliest film and this is the best reason to watch it. After all, when was the last time you came out of the cinema giggling?

Welcome Back review: A perfect storm of utter nonsense with Nana Patekar, Anil Kapoor and John Abraham

There are bhais and there are bhais. The first belong to the underworld and the other, to sisters at large. Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) belong to both categories. In Welcome Back, a sequel to Welcome by the same director, we meet Uday and Majnu, miserable in their decent man acts and gentlemen suits, which, incidentally, make for quite an eye-catching wardrobe.

Eight years after Welcome, Uday and Majnu have stayed away from don-hood in Dubai, having promised their sister’s uncle-in-law, Dr Ghungroo (Paresh Rawal) that they will walk the straight and narrow. Now, as Dubai businessmen in Welcome Back, Uday and Majnu find respectability comes with baggage, sisters and con artistes.

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This time, the duo find themselves saddled with one more sister — Ranjana (Shruti Hassan), daughter to Uday’s wife-hopping father (Patekar in a small double role appearance).

So Majnu struts around, shoulders tilted, wearing silver or black jackets and his trademark blue shades. Uday glares and glowers at goons while muttering “control” to himself while in his head, guns lock and load each time anyone does anything to annoy him.

In Welcome Back, Uday and Majnu’s woe is that they’re single. Even their henchmen have families, but our winsome twosome don’t have wives who will gaze at them on Karva Chauth nights. Then, both of them land up in love with the same girl, Princess Chandni (Ankita Srivastava), daughter of Maharani Padmavati (Dimple Kapadia).

However, this is no real love story. Padmavati is a con artiste who works with her daughter to snag rich men and weasel money out of them.

In case you thought this was a spoiler, all this happens within the first 40 minutes of Welcome Back, which is proof that plot is the least of Bazmee’s concerns in this film.

When 50-something and fitter-than-ever Kapoor and Patekar begin their screen time dancing to “Meet Me Daily Baby” and spend the rest of the film going round in circles, you know you are in for director Anees Bazmee’s brand of slapstick comedy.

Matching them gun for a gun, skip for a skip, silly words for sillier one, and crow for a pigeon is John Abraham as Ajju bhai. While romancing Ranjana, he does some surprisingly good jumps and moves of his own to outwit Uday and Majnu.

Our first encounter with him has him thrusting body parts to the tune of “Main Babli hui, Tu Bunty hua/ Bandh kamre mein 20-20 hua”. A rival don (a cameo by Ranjeet) says, “Yeh 20-20 khel rehein hain, inke body ka 50-50 kar do.” There follows the inevitable fight in which more of the inevitable follows — small-time baddies go flying in different directions and Ajju takes off his shirt to display a huge, sinewed back and several packs of abs.

But he’s not all muscle and no masti. Ajju has some romance scenes, in which he’s the ingenue opposite Ranjana, which suits Abraham just fine too. Haasan is a better and refreshingly sweet replacement for Katrina Kaif from Welcome.

And if that wasn’t enough, two more characters (Naseeruddin Shah and Shiney Ahuja) fly in with choppers to add to the chaos created by Hop Patekar, Skip Kapoor and Jump Abraham.

Shah is Wanted Bhai, a blind daddy of all dons who will, of course, kill for his druggie son, Honey (Ahuja). A fine mess is created with Honey being in love with Ranjana while Ranjana wants to marry Ajju while her ‘brothers’, Uday and Majnu, want Ajju dead. Oh, and Ajju happens to be Dr Ghungroo’s wife’s illegitimate son. This causes Ghungroo to call his wife “boycut hulkut” (she has short hair) and come up with devious schemes of his own.

Welcome Back gallops along, powered by lines like “Logon ki ma-behen hoti hain, aapki baap-behen ho gayi” and “Mobile uski, sim apun ka, tu beech mein missed call dene waala kaun?” A long graveyard scene is thrown in, with Kapoor breaking into his fantastic “Ae ji O ji” number, with his never tiring, super-enthusiastic grin. Thankfully, the film moves on to a quick climax point with all the actors running across sand dunes of Dubai, chased by camels.

Welcome Back kicks up a storm of utter nonsense thanks to terrific comic timing by Patekar and Kapoor. And it happens to be a welcome break from 24/7 coverage of murder, financial crashes and other serious news — purely because of the two talented actors who hop, skip, dance and fool around with complete conviction.