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Antim: The Final Truth is an atypical Bhai film: Salman Khan is not the film’s centrepiece; he gets less screen time than the other male lead, and he doesn’t romance a heroine.
Shocked? So was I. It’s the Bollywood version of the farm laws repeal. In an even more bizarre coincidence, Bhai plays a Sikh cop, Rajveer Singh. Now if Bhai is a cop, you know what to expect: two words, vigilante justice. Not just that, the film keeps reinforcing his faith: Rajveer uses his kada to pummel the goons; he drapes his turban on a rape survivor; he threatens more than once, “Jis din is sardar ki hategi, sabki phategi.”
A remake of the 2018 Marathi film Mulshi Pattern, Mahesh Manjrekar’s Antim originates from the Maharashtrian agrarian crisis. Hounded by debts, the farmers are forced to sell their lands, slaving away for merciless zamindars. Some lucky ones sell their produce to the urban centres for a pittance. This is where our hero, Rahul (Aayush Sharma), enters.
From his first scene to the last, one thing is clear about him: Rahul has got no chill. Whether he’s romancing, dancing, threatening, murdering, sympathising, moralising, the guy is stuck in one mode: dread-meets-sniggers-meets-bewilderment or, to be more charitable, nobody-even-informed-me-that-the-director-had-called-action-this-is-not-done-ya-bro expression. It must have taken incredible ability and determination to steal Bhai’s insufferable thunder, but Sharma has plucked the ‘possible’ from ‘impossible’.
The son of a poor farmer (Sachin Khedekar) migrating to the city with his family, Rahul is simmering all the time. He mocks his pitiable father. He resents the rich landlords. He craves to break this cycle of oppression. So, what does he do? He becomes a gangster. Bollywood films are infamous for illogical leaps, but Antim takes the cake — and the bakery. Is the heroine (Mahima Makwana) difficult to impress? Beat up a baddie. Are politicians, contractors, and gangsters giving too much trouble? Shoot them. What should one do when a teacher refuses to give his land? Murder.
There’s nothing in this film that a few bullets can’t solve. But Rajveer wants more! Yet the poor guy is disappointed that he may be held accountable for encounter killings: “Bandook toh de di lekin har goli ka hisaab dena padta hai.” Not that that is a deterrent. Rajveer, who was suspended for two years for killing rapists and peddlers, still shoots as he pleases, and nothing happens to him. Antim then befits a star wattage like Him because, like his life, here actions have no consequences.
Rahul is framed as an anti-hero, at least at the start, as someone avenging his father’s pride. But the terrible writing reduces him to a gun-toting maniac, spawning several questions: Is he a ‘bad’ guy with a ‘good’ heart? Is he a ‘good’ guy with a ‘bad’ heart (whatever that means)? Why is he such a creep towards the woman he claims to love? What does he want? What does he need? Is he getting paid per frown?
Antim follows a simple template: a subplot, a villain, a murder; a bigger subplot, a bigger villain, a bigger… and so on. Rajveer keeps popping up every now and then, issuing threats, murdering criminals, firing Bhai gems. A small sample: “Jahan jahan sardaar, wahaan wahaan gurudwara. Langar. Koi bhookha nahin jaata”; “sardar hun main, Waaheguru, aur sirf Waaheguru, ke saamne mera sir jhukta hai”; and my favourite (maybe Manjrekar’s too, as it repeats in the climax), “Duniya me kuch nahin tikta sivaye plastic ke.”
Besides lessons on materials science, Antim offers nothing. Not even the so-bad-it’s-good pleasures. Not even the so-bad-it-should-be-illegal complaints. The whole enterprise can be summarised in six words: characters bleat, bullets dance, bodies fall.
The most fascinating bit about Antim lies outside the screen. Two questions bothered me while watching the film: Where have I seen this actor? How did he manage the impossible coup — upstaging Bhai in an action film? Google helped, but I should have guessed the second answer. Sharma made his debut in the 2018 schmaltz fest Loveyatri. He also happens to be — of course, just a coincidence — Bhai’s brother-in-law. Antim and Loveyatri even share the same producer, Salman Khan Films.
Ah, that n-word again: Bollywood’s most potent virus, multiplying with abandon, mocking our helplessness for we can’t even get vaccinated.