Blockbuster Bollywood film written and directed by Raj Kumar Gupta, inspired by the hunt for a real life bomber. Intended as a tribute to “unsung heroes”, but full of stereotypes and posturing instead of excitement or pride.
I had some time to kill on Sunday evening, and in such circumstances like to try a film at the cinema which I know nothing about. India’s Most Wanted was in the listings, with this description: “A group of intelligence officers embark on a top-secret mission to track down a wanted international criminal.” Sounds exciting, I thought; possibly Sicario-style serious.
India’s Most Wanted was indeed about a mission to track down a criminal, a prolific bomber, no less; but it was neither serious nor exciting. The film followed Prabhat Kapoor (Arjun Kapoor) and his small team of loyal officers in their hunt for “India’s Osama”, the terrorist behind 52 bomb blasts killing over four hundred people. It is based on the capture of Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of Indian Mujahideen, who was arrested at Nepal border in 2013. Yet it is not a sincere re-enactment of actual events, but comes across more like a buddy movie, maybe the kind of spy film Dwayne Johnson might appear in. I have nothing against light entertainment, but this is not the style to use when paying tribute to the “unsung heroes”, in my opinion. Kapoor’s part could easily be played by Johnson if this were an American film: he radiates macho-with-minor-vulnerabilities as if he sprays it on every day.
The rest of his team is made up of resoundingly everyman-type characters, which perhaps does suit the “unsung heroes” theme. But too much of the time they are mocked as hen-pecked, uneducated or without thoughts of their own, which comes across as disrespectful to me. India’s Most Wanted is mildly entertaining for the most part, but (yes, another but) it has minimal excitement: in a crime thriller, I expect a bit of fisticuffs at least, if not a chase, or hey maybe a gunfight or an exploding helicopter. There’s one struggle and then one flee to the border, and no guns. Oh, and the film is way too long at just over two hours: much of the time, the heroes are waiting for a thumbs-up from the boss or gazing moodily at the scenery.
Ah yes, the scenery. Again, not what we watch a thriller for normally, but it does engender an excellent sense of place. The team meet with an informer in Nepal and follow his clues to hunt down the target. We are treated to plenty of winding roads around beautiful mountains, and then – after a lengthy night-time driving scene – the dusty-yet-colorful Kathmandu. Our Indian team does their best to blend in, carrying out surveillance on a lake by pedalo, and following a bus by rickety scooter. But they can’t pretend to all be tourists for long, showing them up as amateur again.
The slow-motion walking around town (carrying jackets and wearing sunglasses), shifty looking around corners and calling each other with (useless) updates, competitive mustaches… something tells me I could have been watching nearly any Indian cop story, though granted this one was especially glossy. There is little depth given to any of the characters: the bosses are all bureaucrats and the Muslims are probably all fundamentalist. If people are presented this way to heighten the sense of sacrifice and dedication on the part of the officers (who even have a whip-round of their own small funds to support the mission)… good try, but it didn’t work. I would have rather some of the time wasted with waiting around or looking at the mountains was spent on developing the characters some more. That could have been done with somewhat sharper dialogue otherwise, but that was either dull (“The phone is switched off.” “Try it again.” “The phone is switched off.”) or daft (“Yes, he is crazy: crazy for his country, as we all should be!”).
I must say the soundtrack (by Amit Trivedi) was good, and not embellished by unnecessary dance numbers. There were four songs, two played live by bands within the film and two as a soundtrack to the filler scenes. Which reminds me… the first song opened the film, with patrons at an outdoor café in Pune clapping along: I did think briefly that everyone was about to dance, but that’s when the first bomb went off, giving us a stark, sudden jolt with the contrast. Unfortunately, that contrast continued to jar throughout the film, with images of bomb sites and victims cutting into the smiling/waiting/talking police scenes.
I can appreciate the aim of a film which shows police heroes are everyday men (no women, apparently) who commit themselves completely to their work. But if only India’s Most Wanted presented those men in such a way that we might cheer, and ideally not notice how much time was passing.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.