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Malang, Review: Why knot when you cannot unknot?

Six cops, a serial cop killer, a wandering maiden, a Swedish female drug peddler and a sexually starved wife form the core dramatis personae of Malang, a crime-vendetta-whodunit tale that comes with a misleading title. Malang can mean many things, all of them associated with detached, saintly, carefree, Sufi and seer type individuals, often seen as wandering minstrels. You will have to test the elasticity of your imagination in order to co-relate the term with the narrative of the film. A slick thriller, with gaping holes, Malang fails to rise above the sum total of its parts.

In the present day, a prison inmate in Goa takes on fellow inmates, who rub him the wrong way. He manages to beat dozens of them to pulp. We learn that the man is Advait Thakur, who had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in a frame-up. Released after serving his term, he sets out to wreak vengeance on the four police officers who first beat him up mercilessly, then administered a near fatal dose of drugs to his pregnant girl-friend and finally threw her from a bridge, into a river, to die. Now hard as steel, he begins his slaying spree on Christmas Day, by killing one of the conspiratorial policemen, but not before calling Inspector Anjaneya Agashe and informing him about his intentions.

Agashe is a strong believer in dispensing justice with a gun. When he learns that a restaurant-owner has killed his waiter because he refused to serve liquor and drugs to the clientele, he shoots the restaurateur point blank, and makes it look like a suicide. But he is unable to prevent the murder of the police officer at the hands of Advait. Baffled at the goings-on, Inspector Michael Rodrigues, who claims to follows rules as against the Dirty Harry avatar of Agashe, takes over the investigation. Soon, a second murder is committed, with the cover of the Christmas Carnival, and the killer escapes amidst the costumed, masked revelry. A Nigerian drug dealer is hauled in as lead, but all he can tell them is that he sold a large amount of drugs to a foreign woman, with dread-locks, called Jessie. We see that the murders have a connection, and that they relate to the good times that Advait spent with his girl-friend, Sara.

There is little in terms of originality that writers Aseem Arrora (Nanhe Jaisalmer: A Dream Come True, Lucknow Central, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore) and Aniruddha Guha (journalist, mainly TV writer) offer. A serial killer out to mete vigilante justice to a bunch of criminal police officers, and getting away with it, till the numero uno offender is the only one standing, has been done to death in numerous Hollywood and Indian films. Since we discover ‘why’ and ‘who’ pretty early in the picture, it was not a question of ‘what’ or ‘where’ but ‘how’. The how in the film is passably interesting, but the number of loopholes in the plot is legend, negating the stylised ambience.

Advait is a bit of a hunk, though he can be beaten black and blue by armed police officers. Prison transforms him into a superman, able to fling attackers like flies and send them spinning like a spin-bowler’s deadly leg-break. He breaks legs, arms and necks like he was attempting to answer 2+2=? Among his many brushes with his adversaries, there is a time when he has to rely on the lights going off, in order to grab hold of his quarry, who has a retinue of gun-toting policeman in tow. Apparently, he can see in the dark, while none of the dozen odd gun-slingers can see enough to shoot at him. On another occasion, it is the Christmas procession that gives him cover, and in yet another, a bunch of football fans, arriving on cue, prevent Agashe from pumping some bullets into his six-packs, while he does the timely disappearing act, using his hoodie and a mask as trade-mark disguise tools.

A woman, who had no chance of surviving the gory death planned for her, survives miraculously, while her predators make no attempts to double-check if she really died. She goes on to live for more than five years, undetected by the crack police force. Jessie, who is also part-time prostitute, confirms a client’s arrival at her home, but does not tell her flat-mate about it. What’s more, she sets out on an errand, leaving the girl behind, who has to deal with the arrival of the psychopath of a client, which nearly causes the flat-mate’s death. At one stage, when it appears that the killer has surrendered, he says that he did so in order to send Inspector Michael home, from the police station, apparently aware what was in store for Rodrigues at his abode. How could he have even the vaguest idea of what Michael would do, where would he go and when, given that Michael told nobody about his plans?

Goa emerges as a place where an entire police department functions as trigger-happy/prostitute patronising/ impotent/drug abusing bunch, who do little else. Yes, we see the team of M/s Arora, Guha and director Mohit Suri (Murder 2, Aashiqui 2, Ek Villain) pay lip service to the island-state by having characters revert to Konkani and Marathi, the two most popular languages spoken there, from Hindi and English, showcasing the Christmas carnival and a major football match, reminding us that Goans take their Christmas and football very seriously. We even have two characters greeting others with Happy Solstice, a greeting that only the few remaining true-blue Portuguese descendants living in Goa offer each other, during Christmas season. In fact, this greeting is a major clue about the ‘mystery’ killings.

However, Goa is not shown in any flattering light, even remotely, rave parties being a recurring event. Oh yes! We see fabulous aerial shots of its beaches and waters. Whereas we do believe that the babe who goes in and out of the water, and the hunk who leads her on, and vice versa, are the film’s lead pair, strong reservations were expressed by some members of the audience about the authenticity of the locale, especially given the transparent water. “Mauritius” said one. “Maldives”, opined another. Passing off foreign locations as local (Goa)? That’s a move in reverse, isn’t it? Are we grudging Suri cinematic licence, or has he discovered some pristine beaches, hidden away in the innumerable islets of Goa?

There is ample panache on display, and gift-wrapped sex in abundance, courtesy Disha Patani and her skimpiest mini-kinis (a bikini, by contrast, would be like a 9-yard saree). The first three scenes have you glued, but then as you come out of suspended animation, the loop-holes bring you back on terra firma. Anil Kapoor’s entry is well-written, and well-executed, until he kills the restaurant-owner/friend. Kunal Roy Kapur’s entry is like-wise, until we see him as an almost normal human being. That said, both will benefit from the film, as will the other two stars, Disha Patani and Kunal Kemmu.

If Kunal Roy Kapur (Delhi Belly, Nautanki Sala, Yeh Jawaai Hai Deewani, Marudhar Express) needed a make-over, Suri has done him a big favour. A body to die for, with or without digital enhancement, and a negative character, who has the audience’s sympathy—these are not factors one normally associates with Roy Kapur. Now if our Advait Thakur were only to work some more on his dialogue delivery and emoting…Disha Patani (M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, Baghi 2, Bharat) is cast as a girl who has lost her parents and wanders around trying to conquer her fears, which include taking drugs and having unprotected premarital sex. While the male gaze will feast on her body (the film is certified for exhibition to adults only), her face retains an innocence that belies her life-style.

Having given Anil Kapoor a solid start, as Agashe, director Suri does not know how to square him with so many other actors. In particular, the scene in the wash-room, where he is fretting and twitching about, is one that goes nowhere. Kapoor’s charm, however, is infectious. At 63, he is too solidly ensconced to get affected by the success or otherwise of the film. Kunal Khemu as Michael Rodriguez is the surprise packet. With a body almost on par with the other Kunal, he essays a difficult role with aplomb. Makarand Deshpande has a cameo, playing the restaurateur, while Elli AvrRam (Greek-Swedish) is cast as the drug-peddler/prostitute, Jessie, and surprises us with her Hindi (which might be dubbed) and throws in some Swedish for effect. Amruta Khanvilkar is seen as Michael’s fiancée, later wife, Teresa, and makes her role count. Also in the cast are Keith Sequeira, Shaad Randhawa, Vatsal Sheth, Mahek Manwani, Devika Vatsa and Prasad Jawade. The Nigerian drug-dealer garners a few laughs.

There are some good songs, composed by Mithoon, Ankit Tiwari, Asim Azhar, Ved Sharma and The Fusion Project, justifying the backing obtained of music and film producing company T-Series. But why, oh why, did they have to include two paeans to Malang? Raju Singh’s background score is a distinct plus for the movie, as is Vikas Sivaraman’s cinematography. Editing by Devendra Murdeshwar is inconsistent, like the pace of the movie, though the length of 135 minutes cannot be perceived as too long.

Using a knotted wrist-band as a symbol for Sara’s fears, which she opens one knot at a time, as she gets over that one fear, Mohit Suri leaves a few directorial knots still knotted, as the end credits stop rolling. Why knot, when you cannot unknot?

Rating: **