Commando: Stylized Random Violence at it’s Best

This past Friday I realized I no longer need to re-watch the Rambo movies to vicariously relive the 80s/90s. Nor do I have to sit through noble but overcooked attempts to revive such awesome cinema (cough cough, The Expendables).

Besides the past two Die Hard movies which kept the fading genre alive, nothing has come close to recreating the magic found in high-octane 80s/90s action movies. Alas I decided to check out Commando. No, not the fantastic Schwarzenneger-starrer.

Instead I am referring to the new Bollywood release whose trailer got me nostalgic and excited. With the presence of Force villain Vidyut Jamwal and Jaideep Ahlawat from Gangs of Wasseypur, it was natural to expect competent action and performances. Besides, as much as I was anticipating the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, I needed a break from baseball after the Blue Jays’ dismal Opening Week.

The story follows Captain Karanvir Dogra (Vidyut Jamwal) after his army jet crashes into the Chinese territory during a routine training. He then becomes a prisoner of the Chinese government as they assume he is an Indian spy. Karanvir protests that his arrival on Sino territory was due to an accident during a routine flight, not because he was sent by the Indian government to infiltrate China. Due to the absence of the crash wreckage, the Chinese brand him a spy to embarrass the Indian Government. Instead of shedding the false label that Dogra is a spy through substantial evidence, the Indian Defense Minister also decides to play politics by wiping out every record of the elite Commando’s existence. After suffering as a prisoner for a year, Karan then escapes by crossing into Himachal Pradesh from the Lepcha Border.

Upon entering Punjab from Himachal Pradesh he saves the talkative Simrit (Pooja Chopra) from A.K. Singh’s (Jaideep Ahlawat) thugs. A.K. is the head of a political mafia that oppresses its constituents. Forcibly marrying a girl from a respectable family, Simrit, would do wonders for his rising political career. When finding out that the men after Simrit are of immense political stature, Karan decides to make Simrit’s battle his own. This is because the type of public official who left Karan to rot in China usually begins his political career as a tyrannical criminal. Hence, by defeating A.K. he feels the corrupt system can slowly be cleansed. Plus the fact that the Police only guarantee the safety of such thugs and not people they oppress further motivates Dogra. How the hero rescues the damsel in distress and her tyrannized town forms the rest of the story.

First off, Commando is a movie for die-hard action fans. While there are some political overtones, it is not Doug Liman’s Green Zone. This film is perfect for a bro-out session so keep your wives and girlfriends away. If they can digest Chinese torture tactics and gruesome combat, by all means this would be the perfect date movie.

The stunts done by Jamwal, the dialogues, and slick direction more than make up for the predictable plot. However, there is nothing wrong selling the same goods in a different package especially since nothing like this has been attempted in Indian cinema. Clearly the Director grew up on a steady diet of Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenneger movies. While in Hollywood this genre is barely surviving, the Screenwriter and Director deserve props for making the old new again.

The real technical star of the film is Cinematographer Sejal Shah who makes the rural locales, jungles, and great stunts visually enticing. Action Director Franz Spilhaus’s stunt coordination and fight sequences are second to none. Don’t believe me? Just watch the trailer above. With the exception of the Daler Mehndi song, the music and background score are not all catchy.

As for the performances, Vidyut Jamwal shows why Producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah has banked on him for the second time. His acting is praiseworthy as he effortlessly encompasses both the hard and soft sides of Karanvir Dogra. Jaideep Ahlawat is simply flawless as the creepy and sadistic A.K. He holds his own against an already mainstream star; much like Jamwal did in Force against John Abraham. Debutante Pooja Chopra will either evoke memories of the chatty Basanti from Sholay or she will come off as irritating to some. The supporting cast does its job aptly. Jagat Rawat as A.K.’s right hand man M.P. and Sohrab Handa as Simrit’s father are superb.

After being the one who could stand eye to eye with Action Abraham in Force, Vidyut Jamwal has set the bar high for Desi action heroes. With the ability of Tony Jaa and the suaveness of Jason Statham, VJ is here to stay. Do not miss Commando if you call yourself a true action buff!

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Shootout at Wadala: Once again, another round of ‘true’ rumors

“January 11 1982, till that day nothing so memorable like this ever took place between the Bombay police and the underworld. I had that longing to rewrite history. My name, Manya Surve.” Manya’s Achilles-like wish to etch his place in history would come true through his own death. A death which gave birth to the brutal but necessary and sometimes abused evil euphemistically dubbed as the ‘encounter.’ Now comes a motion picture rendition of arguably the most formative years in the history of the Mumbai underworld which predated the first ever police extra-judicial killing.

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The minds behind Shootout at Wadala (namely Director Sanjay Gupta and Producer Ekta Kapoor) will attempt to chronicle nine years of the Bombay underworld’s history based on the S. Hussain Zaidi authored novel pictured above. For the full 60 years and beyond, grab a copy of Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia. It is worth a read for anyone fascinated by the multi-national enterprise that is D-Company and the Indian law & order landscape. While Zaidi is an accomplished crime journalist due to his vast networks comprising of the stewards of Mumbai’s underbelly, some will take his narrative with a grain of salt. With the movie however, I am definitely going to take the whole salt shaker as the book’s cover contains endorsements from the glamorous Shootout at Wadala star cast rather than distinguished intelligence/law enforcement figures. To be fair though, the talented crime reporter’s buddy and brilliant author, Vikram Chandra, wrote a glowing legitimate preface for the book. Why wouldn’t he? Chandra’s marvelous novel, Sacred Games, drew heavily fom Zaidi’s research and repertoire.

There were numerous myth versus reality complaints after the first awesome Shootout movie, Shootout at Lokhandwala. Will this upcoming film be the truthful outlier among the police-underworld dramatizations even with Gupta’s friendship with seal of approval from S. Hussain Zaidi? That is highly debatable because early reactions from the trailer have prompted the name changes of pivotal characters such as the Kaskar brothers and Isaq Bagwan. Even Bagwan, the man who carried out the first encounter claims that the film is not devoid of inaccuracies.  Apparently, Ekta Kapoor deliberately kept the original character names when filming in spite of Gupta’s protests that the names ‘Dawood’ and ‘Sabir’ would rub new salt on old wounds. This new buzz concerning these changes makes me second guess Gupta’s due diligence with respect to the facts. Well, it certainly would not be the first time. Plus, the first trailers with original names may have been used only to create a fake controversy so that news of these changes could further publicity.

As crazy as this may sound, it is almost as if pre-production for this movie began before the completion of Dongri to Dubai. For all you know, the fictionalized version of the 1992 JJ Hospital shooting (where D-Syndicate Lieutenants Sautya and Chota Shakeel turned one of Mumbai’s premier hospitals into a battleground to assassinate the killers of Dawood’s brother in law) is in development right now. Another interesting piece of information is Hussain Zaidi’s disdain for Bollywood itself as explained in a New York Times India Ink Blog Interview. When asked by blogger Malavika Vyawahare regarding his writings that divulged the Bollywood-Underworld nexus, he replied, “The film industry people are shameless people — anything they do or say is like water off a duck’s back.” This is the same film industry that has cemented Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar as the national Bin-Ladenesque villain indirectly associated with most terrorist activity in India.

Look no further than Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, a very ‘fantasized/non reality based’ account (according to Gupta himself when he proclaimed that Shootout at Wadala is more geared towards the truth) of the monster named Shoaib created by the Mumbai police to topple principled smuggler Sultan Mirza. Shoaib was obviously nothing more than an alias for Dawood whereas Sultan Mirza was modeled after Haji Mastan with shades of Madrasi gangster Varadarajan Mudaliar and Pathan Don Karim Lala. Who produced that movie? That person would be none other than Ekta Kapoor. Mastan, Mudaliar, and Lala did stick to their ‘old-school’ values by not crossing the lines Dawood did, but their Robin-Hood images have always been exaggerated. On celluloid, they are portrayed as: 1) thieves with principles 2) the voice of the voiceless and 3) averse to drugs and prostitution, a la Vito Corleone. The Varda Bhai-Haji Mastan duo made fortunes not just from smuggling goods imposed with unnecessary import duties, but from anti honorable thief operations like prostitution and illicit liquor. This by no means detracts from their philanthropy and generosity towards the underprivileged nor does it absolve Dawood of his crimes.

Nonetheless, Bollywood never fails to cash on old school gangs’ legacies as the lesser of the two evils forsaken by the police for the greater evil that is the D-Company. When asked who Mumbai’s misunderstood gangster was in another interview, even Mr. Zaidi reluctantly retorted, “Misunderstood and gangster don’t go hand in hand. Gangsters make themselves understood very well! If you insist, then Haji Mastan who was Scrooge personified but portrayed as a magnanimous Raja Harishchandra of his times.” While Dawood may have initially been the illegitimate child of the police’s agenda to subdue the Pathan stronghold on Mumbai, politicians are just as guilty of nurturing the D-Company regime (cough cough Sharad Pawar). You never see Bollywood depicting that do you?

Zaidi’s first book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts and its cinematic adaptation were not the usual desi-masala fares. Although same cannot be said for Dongri to Dubai and Shootout at Wadala. Regardless of whether Director Sanjay Gupta and Producer Ekta Kapoor may be exceptions to his stance on the Indian film industry, Hussain Zaidi’s journalistic and literary profile is sure to receive a boost on May 1, 2013. Not in the slightest way should this be interpreted as a knock on the S.A.W. team’s cinematic talents or efforts as it looks like one heck of an action flick. If not for the facts, this movie will be one to watch for some solid entertainment.