A Bollywood film can be long – it comes with the territory. It can also be inane – hyper-kinetic commercial cinema isn’t about brain as much as brawn. It can even be smug – a byproduct of fixation on stars. But a film that is long and inane and smug? That would be Siddharth Anand’s latest action thriller, War. It’s Student of the Year with guns, and a few twists that will make Ekta Kapoor proud.
War is centred on a simple conceit. A senior Indian soldier, Kabir (Hrithik Roshan), has gone rogue, and the army assembles a mission – headed by Khalid (Tiger Shroff) – to kill him. Kabir, we’re told multiple times, trained Khalid. Kabir also killed Khalid’s father, a terrorist (this, too, is repeated multiple times).
Khalid wants to restore honour to his family. Khalid respects Kabir – this admiration, in fact, also materialises as a fetish of sorts. Khalid often looks at Kabir lovingly and longingly. He even hesitates to sit beside Kabir. Shroff, who is one of the most enjoyable bad actors around, makes the embarrassing scenes ludicrous. You can fault Shroff for many things – even non-trivial ones such as the lack of acting skills – but you can’t doubt his consistency. He’s done seven films in his five-year-old career, and all of them deserve the Indian equivalent of the Razzies. And Shroff – armed with nothing but dedication and diligence – tried his best to make them worse.
Roshan plays the cool cat in the movie – a suave, sharp soldier always ahead of his friend and foes. War worships his presence – he gets the hero’s entry; he gets the meatiest of lines and scenes – and Roshan, the only entertaining thing about the movie, makes the most of them. Even though War revolves around soldiers and enemies of the state, it is simply Bollywood escapism in a different mould. The movie isn’t interested in the bigger picture; it instead just wants to deliver the maximum thrills possible. Which sounds refreshing – you typically don’t see such methods in a genre like this.
It even shows initial glimpses of promise. War revels in exaggerated action sequences: buildings crumble like monuments of cardboards, blood splashes, bombs explode. Shroff’s first action scene, relying on few cuts, is an impressive feat of coordination. We also get a small poignant scene with his mother (Soni Razdan). And then we get a bizarre Holi song – contrived, tonally off, unmelodious – which is just an excuse for Shroff and Roshan to dance together. Their star powers seem crucial to the movie, resulting in several plot manipulations, designed to give them maximum screen time together.
If that were indeed the case, then why pick a subject like this at all? Why not choose a more straight-forward set-up – one that allows a fuller extent of indulgence without making it inconsistent or forced? Strung together by a thin plot, War often struggles to hold your interest. Large portions of the film – even when filled with enough action scenes – aimlessly plod. Many dialogues are needlessly repeated for dramatic effect and information dump. The camera work is a masterclass in overcompensation: abrupt zooms try to enliven dead scenes; a rapidly swirling camera, orbiting around two characters in a tense conversation, looks like a coked-up homage to Quentin Tarantino. Even the smallest of things, such as Naina’s (Vaani Kapoor) motivation, are painfully trite.
But the worst parts of the film are, by far, its bizarre twists, reminding you of the darkest days of Indian television. These absurd plot turns not just make little sense but are also shamelessly derivative – a classic case of unoriginal thinking and lazy writing in the guise of commercial cinema. Then the twists start cancelling each other. This is simply destiny: how can you discuss bad Hindi cinema and not invoke Race (2008)?
Imagine this: If a K-serial and Race got married and sent their son to a Student of the Year kind of school, and if he became a soldier (as opposed to, say, just being a millionaire bum), then he would have very much resembled War. Someone who thinks AFSPA (the Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is some kind of luxurious hot bath.
War’s list of travesties is long. It stretches itself hard in making every inch of its fibre smooth – the soldiers glide, jump and punch with the ease of video game characters. The whole thing, after a point, looks so synthetic – so monotonously synchronised – that you crave a different operating system. But even such practiced efficiency couldn’t have saved the movie because “garbage in” is, after all, “garbage out”.