Cast: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee
Director: Sanjay Gupta
Rating: Three stars
Aha there goes the camera, ogling at the ample assets of Ms Sunny Leone. Then there’s Priyanka Chopra, all blingy with micro-light-bulbs a la Amitabh Bachchan in 'Yaarana'. And the third item gal, Sophie Choudhary, breaks into a boogie, which is about as exciting as a punctured tyre.
But then what would entertainment be without dollops of vulgarity? And of course do be prepared for unchecked violence since the Sanjay Gupta-helmed 'Shootout at Wadala' is a gangsta flick, no bullet showers and brain-poundings barred.
That’s the predictable news about this return to Mumbai’s meanest streets, circa the late 1970s and ‘80s, when underworld warfare had assumed Leviathan proportions. And the startling news is director Gupta’s retro-gangs-of-Wadalapur is pretty strong stuff, extremely involving in parts and belted out with an astonishing amount of technical flourish.
Indeed, the first-half holds you in a vice-like grip literally. The attention paid to the details of another era is impressive, be it in the recreation of the tense atmophere of in the mohallas, a stately police force chamber ridden with hidden agendas, the authentic costumes and the set décor. The behind-the-scenes production design team deserves an unconditional applause. Ditto Anil Mohile’s background music score, which modernises the clatter and trumpet blasts of the Amitabh Bachchan vendetta slugouts of yore.
Advertent references to Bachchan’s odes to violence are employed by the director to point out that the antsy young man phenomenon, indeed, led to impressionable minds being heavily influenced by the characters he portrayed in 'Zanjeer', 'Muqaddar ka Sikandar', 'Deewar' – in which grabbing the law in one’s hands appeared to be the only means to gain justice.
A bold point is made on the impact of such an ideology, but it’s left dangling in the air. It’s touched upon, never explicated. But naturally, the overriding concentration is on zeroing in on stranger-than-fiction elements from journalist Hussain Zaidi’s book 'From Dongri to Dubai'. The adaptation, at moments, has an almost reportorial quality about it, reassembled in a coherent, credible structure. For once, Sanjay Gupta doesn’t go crazy with jump-cuts and flashmatazz. Instead he narrates a story with a terrific opening, a sagging middle (alas) and redeemingly, an end which for once doesn’t cackle that crime doesn’t pay. It does.
Besides a jaguar pace, the enterprise banks considerably on its central character, Manya Surve (John Abraham), an innocent soul driven by circumstances to crime of the most despicable kind. After a jail-break, bank robberies and more, he sets up a gang of deadly derelicts (Tusshar Kapoor and assorted scruffies) to oppose the ruling mafia – names altered, but not without hints that the reference is to the D-company.
Surve’s ascent to ill-fame is rapid but unstrategised, leading to bloodbaths in venues ranging from butcher shops (ouch) and seedy hotels to hair-cutting salons and petrol pumps. Meanwhile Surve toughens to the extent of avoiding his mother completely, and roughing up his relationship with the love of his life (Kangana Ranaut, the ever-ready kissing machine). Not much of a plot here. Instead, the accent is on the cat-‘n’-mouse game waged by Surve’s gang with the rival dons as well as the police force, spearheaded by a cop (Anil Kapoor) – an idealist plays by the book at a point when unlawful encounters had become as common as viral fever.
The screenplay’s mid-section is the snafu, really. The business about the cop and Surve ping-ponging between flashbacks, in a police van, merely adds to the excessive footage of two-and-a-half hours. Also going by the commercial matrix, there are too many songs, one coming back-to-back after the gang has been warbling at the top of their lungs on the streets. Plausibility is taxed, too, with such flaws as Surve not even knowing that he has passed his graduation exams till he is informed weeks and months later. Plus the cop sprints to rescue his son from a bomb although an instant phone call to the school authorities would have been saner. Presumably that’s dramatic licence for whipping up some faux thrills and spills.
Moreoever, a rape sequence is needlessy graphic. And the dialogue is bombastically rhetorical throughout.
Despite such off-putting factor galore, 'Shootout at Wadala' is still sufficiently grippring and endowed with visceral energy. The cinematagraphy, enhanced by digital colouring, achieves an extraordinary retro-ambience.
Of the cast, Manoj Bajpai handicapped by an underdeveloped role, still manages to vault over the script. As a brash, cocksure gangster, he’s first-rate. Anil Kapoor is reliably top class, adding intensity and a crazed fervour to the characterisation of a cop forced to bend the rules by his superiors.
Quite naturally, with what is called an author-backed role, John Abraham dominates the show, both with his melting-eye language and Sylvester Stallone physique. Manya Surve is said to have been a small-built man, but then movie heroes can’t be shorn of the glamour quotient, can they? This is not to take away from Abraham’s tour de force performance though. He’s a revelation, and has reached the next level as an actor.
Gratifyingly, Sanjay Gupta doesn’t glorify Manya Surve. He is presented as someone whose life spiralled out of control, more of a doomed figure than a wonder hero. And that’s what makes 'Shootout at Wadala', quite a few cuts above the commonplace. It’s worth an encounter for sure.