Kaabil- The drudgery of Hrithik’s acting

Moments into Kaabil I was distracted. Not by the little kids in the row before, having popcorn wars. Not by the bright display from the mobile, next seat. Not even by the incessant banter of a marwadi contingent looking for F row in the middle of B row. It was the sight of Hrithik playing a blind man.

His face encapsulates Michelangelo’s intensity half way into Sistine Chapel. Brows arced, it is a picture of focus. What is he doing? Making omelette.Nah….creating fresco with broken eggs on a pan. He’s got this industrious look plastered on his face whilst at even the most common of things, that it lends some unintentional curiosity to the activity. We begin to wonder when he opens a tap so emphatically, if he’s there for just the water or releasing its hidden potential as well. Or the time when he’s dicing vegetables purposefully,  if he’s sculpting them for a higher cause or just cooking.
Most emotions he doles out in the movie fall in the range contained between Akbar’s royal grimace to Krish’s righteous chin quiver. The ones which don’t fall in this space, fall under the I-blush-excessively-when-I-get-horny platter from Koi Mil Gaya.

The template of the story is older than a few mountains, alright. But where did the thumb rule of character establishment go? Appu Raja(Aboorva Sagotharargal) pitted a dwarf against a bunch of evil men, all bigger than him in stature and status. We were introduced to the dwarf’s vulnerability, his fragility earlier in the film; that we became invested and went on to root in his lopsided battle.

The fun of watching a protagonist with a disability lock horns with a mighty antagonist comes from his helplessness and the dexterity he brings in to make up for it. He has to be the mouse for most parts in the cat and mouse game they play. Which is one of the many places Kaabil falters. Its hero is a blind man with 18 inch biceps and a blonde streaked mane. He sports colour coordinated designer clothes and never puts a wrong foot down on the dance floor. Instead of leveraging his blindness as a bottleneck, it’s treated like a insignificant kitchen scar. I know the title means capable, but this is over-capable with a few exclamation marks.

And the aspiration to have these things scattered in a masala flick that intends to play to the gallery isn’t a crime. Just that their existence could’ve been ratified. Like showing him live with his granny who picks up his clothes. Have a few montages of him sweating it in the gym or even learning dance. These things lend credibility to the proceedings. Just stray shots of him sniffing a smell from a far away neighbour or that of mimicking Amitabh over phone only does as much as Deepika Padukone does to a deodorant in a commercial, as far as authenticity goes.

It’s not like Hrithik isn’t earnest. In fact if acting was measured by earnestness alone, he would probably be an acting demigod. And it doesn’t help that the director isn’t any visionary himself to make up for the lacunae with a taut screenplay or a novel story. He infuses the film with a distinct 80s sensibility and tropes.From raped heroine, vowing hero, political villain to fat landlines with circular dial; it’s all there. Just that it doesn’t have the old school charm of the era. Dabbang was stitched out of the same cloth, but Salman played Chulbul Pandey with such unabashed conviction, that a rusted script became rustic.

Kaabil needed its hero to be fluid, to have a blast like he did in his extremely popular debut vehicle. Instead he tries too hard and the symbiotic spontaneity goes amiss from the viewing experience. If the meticulous posturing during stunt sequences or the asthmatic enunciation of dialogues are anything to go by, Hrithik’s in his own avant garde project. And even beyond all this, every time I managed to con myself of the film being in this era by the constant sight of slim fit jeans, a hideous Baba bhajanesque track would come up to remind me of its expiry date.  .

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Dangal- of wars,ringside and beyond

Mahavir Phogat leaves the sport at a point with some more to offer and some more to receive. This unrequited arc leaves an itch behind, that just wouldn’t go with the eflux of time. It just assumes another form; yearning. The yearning accrues into something bigger, a dream. A dream for a progeny- a son to complete his aspiration, carry his legacy forward. This dream keeps accruing in desperation through the birth of every daughter, till it comes to an eventual halt of acceptance at the birth of the fourth. He genuflects before destiny. A few years later, providence springs a surprise, in the form of his daughters. As it turns out, they’re wrestlers too like their big man. This is enough for him to dust off his locked dream. And he goes after it like a marooned man at a wild boar. Redemption was all that he wanted- the elusive Olympic gold -and a son was the means and not the end to it. Thus begins a fascinating journey of a father who goes on to live his dream vicariously through the achievements of his two daughters.

Dangal is set in a patriarchal system we’re so used to despising, just that instead of wrestling had it been cooking and if he was a cook and his ambition was to make it to Masterchef it wouldn’t have garnered the national veto of being an invigorating movie; especially for families with girl children.  As graceful and ambitious as the man was, his underlying chauvinism cannot be ignored. Mahavir manipulates his dreams into theirs, his aspirations to theirs at an impressionable age. They become the monks who’re forced into their renunciation to pursue his nirvana.
There’s something preposterous about sporting achievements- don’t know about other countries, but definitely in this part of the world -that colours personal accolades as pride of a nation. Bigger the arena, bigger its subversion into patriotism. Any sport is a spectator event dependent on the emotional gullibility of its fan to thrive. So naturally when a nation is pitted against another at its behest, the similar bifurcation happens in the stands as well. Cheering for a sportsperson representing a nation blurs into national solidarity. For it is a lower hanging fruit than paying taxes and taking bullets.

Can’t remember the last time a lead man walked the screen, so naked of vanity to bring credence to a portrayal.There’s a thin line that runs between egotism and mentoring, Aamir Khan’s Phogat treads this with absolute precision bringing dignity,grace and empathy to a grumpy man who speaks economically, while constantly finding himself torn between taming his inner demons and his little devils on mud pitches. It’s this ego he seeks validation when he spars with his non abiding elder daughter. Her tresses are shoulder length, her manoeuvres revised. She’s no longer the creature of his fashioning, his dreams have dissolved in her indulgences. Age doesn’t blunt his resentment- even if it has managed to make his weary limbs, clumsily slow -as he continues to spar. She comes on top and he loses. But this isn’t one of those vanilla tropes from mainstream films, where the after taste of a man’s loss to his own child is sweet. The sight of a muddy Phogat gasping for breath in humiliation as his elder daughter stands to taunt is anything, but that. Wrestling transcends beyond the pitch between the two.

There’s a scene where Phogat finds himself before a archaic table in a sports federation, he’s there to seek funds to support the training of his daughters. The officer in front talks to him in haryanvi almost. Almost because majority of his mouth is in the service of grinding a mothi laddoo from a box he’s received from the desperate man before him. He nonchalantly explains the paucity of funds with finger movements for neglected sports like wrestling, especially for women, mockingly. A frustrated Phogat begins to rant about why India fares poorly in the Olympics, when he’s cut midway by the officer’s abrupt exit for lunch.

It is scenes like this that bring out the odds that were stacked against the real Phogat, the numerous fights he had to take outside the ring- with the condescending villagers, the purists of the game, a sporting system content of mediocrity -to get his daughters into it.It is a story which needed to be told. Dangal tells this story with utmost integrity without circumventing around its protagonist like a demigod. Unlike the Dhoni biopic, which felt like a litany of montages shot for Chivas Regal promotions than a movie, Dangal doesn’t sidestep the grey shades of its central characters.It in fact for the most part keeps away from the temptation to celebrate them, instead tells a story that deserves to be celebrated.
Even if not for the anthem that played in the final moments, I stood as the end credits began to roll, to doff my hat to- the movie, the people who made it and the ones it was made on. It is that kind of a movie that gets to you. Think it would to most, given the reception it got in the theatre I watched.