Hindi movie audiences, of all age groups, have grown up watching a hero single handedly beat scores of villains. This formula is so old that it evokes, without skillful subversion, nothing but boredom. AR Murugadoss’s latest action drama, Akira, starring Sonakshi Sinha, Anurag Kashyap and Konkona Sen Sharma, gives a fairly new spin to it, as here, a heroine, as opposed to a hero, is landing the blows. But even that, on the surface, looks like a minor consolation, for this inversion of gender feels like another marketing ploy, tempting the audience to watch senseless violence on screen, without any meaning or context.
Which is why Akira’s first fifteen minutes, unfolding in Jodhpur 14 years ago, is a pleasant change, for it roots the protagonist, shows her first brush with violence, shows what it meant to her, and did to her. Even when Akira moves to Mumbai, the change in her character isn’t sudden: She seems willing to adjust (refusing to stay at her brother’s place, because she thinks her sister-in-law may find her intrusive), curb her natural instinct for violence (resisting the urge to hit back at a college bully when harassed for the first time), remember her childhood passion (communicating with disabled kids). These plot points show that there’s some consistency in, and history to, Akira: traits most mainstream Bollywood protagonists are oblivious to.
Even the film’s villain, a corrupt cop called Govind Rane (Anurag Kashyap), is a fairly entertaining presence. Govind is every bit a textbook villain, with a clichéd hysterical laugh, but Kashyap plays him well, imbuing his performance with calculated theatrics and realism. There’re also sly enjoyable hat doffs in scenes involving Kashyap, most notably in the scene where he smokes in front of a ‘No Smoking’ board. And Sharma, playing an honest cop (Rabya Sultan) who has been transferred once again, effortlessly nails her role. Sharma, even though present in a small role, looks much in control and manages to lift even a regular action film. Her character hardly does anything extraordinary, but even then she lends much power and credence to the film.
Also, for a brief segment in Akira’s first half, its narrative is solely driven by actresses: Akira playing the archetype lead; a college bully, also a female, her nemesis; a prostitute (Raai Laxmi), who eventually gets bumped off, trying to frame Govind; Rabya investigating that murder case. Most Hindi action dramas have females playing peripheral characters, mostly present in either romantic or item songs, but Akira is considerably smarter. In fact, the film has no romantic subplot, few songs, and nearly no superfluous action sequences.
And yet, after a point, the film begins to lose its sheen. And the blame rests on the film’s uneven and unfocussed writing. Akira essentially revolves around three subplots: Govind and his underlings going after Akira, she trying to evade them, Rabya investigating a case (related to Akira and Govind). It’s a smart set up, but one that only works well in theory, for Murugadoss isn’t accomplished enough to juggle three different stories and characters. For a large portion of Akira, the subplot involving Kashyap or Sen Sharma is completely absent, making the film uneven and unconvincing. The second half also has a few unconvincing plot turns, crucial to the story, that are marked by lazy writing, a trait common to many mediocre mainstream productions, which Akira had skillfully managed to avoid till a point. Akira, an action drama that plays it safe, is fairly entertaining, but it could have gone that extra yard. It is definitely better than its peers but that’s not saying a lot.