Sooryavanshi — all 145 minutes of it — is as subtle as a sledgehammer. But were we expecting it to be anything but? This is commercial Bollywood at its biggest, wackiest, most unapologetic and has we-are-here-just-to-entertain-and-we-dont-give-a-damn-about-anything-else written all over it. Which, given what the world has been going through over the last few years, isn’t bad at all.
Two years ago — Sooryavanshi was all get-set-go for a March 2020 release before the global pause caused by the pandemic — I would have perhaps had a harsher viewpoint towards a film like this. A film that makes very little attempt at coherent storytelling and relies more on star power, stunts and songs to sail it through towards a massive first-weekend box-office haul. But we are now in a world which expects less and is more accepting. Is this what is called the new normal?
To cut to the chase, I enjoyed Sooryavanshi, for the most part. The well-executed high-octane action sequences, a handful of effective performances, a few genuine attempts at humour and the feel of watching a big film on the big screen after a long time worked for me.
And then, there is Akshay Kumar. Looking like 34 at 54, remarkably athletic and superbly agile, the Bollywood Khiladi is the one-man show that powers Sooryavanshi, both the man and the film.
Whether he’s Parkour-ing off Jaisalmer rooftops or dangling from a helicopter in Thailand, in his signature Khiladi style, rattling off some fun lines in his trademark deadpan or pummeling the bad guys to pulp, Akshay is the fast and furiously beating heart of this cop drama, directed in Rohit Shetty’s familiar no-holds-barred style.
And since this is a Rohit Shetty film, feverishly competing with Akshay for screen time are dozens and dozens of cars. Most of them, as expected, are placed within the frame just to turn turtle within a few minutes, many more are blown up and quite a few are airlifted by half-a-dozen helicopters in unison, with Akshay’s Sooryavanshi walking triumphantly in slo-mo in the foreground.
Such is Shetty’s obsession with cars that he even manages to slip in a joke or two involving them. At one point, when Sooryavanshi berates a character for speaking in wrong English and urges him to only speak in Hindi, the man describes the make of the cars in front of him as ‘bichhoo’ and ‘bhagyawan’. That’s ‘Scorpio’ and ‘Fortuner’ for you. I did find myself laughing out loud at this one. New normal, did I mention?
To be honest, some of the jokes in the film land, some don’t. Sooryavanshi’s penchant for forgetting names is mined for too many feeble laughs. And that includes calling his wife Riya, played by Katrina Kaif, ‘malaria’ and ‘hernia’ at several points in the film.
But I watched Sooryavanshi like a hardcore Bolly buff would, thirsting for the paisa-vasool big-screen experience we have been deprived of for quite some time. The plot, which is as old as Bollywood itself, involves the threat of Mumbai being bombed with the leftover RDX secretly buried in the city since the 1993 blasts, and sleeper cells from across the border operating within India to plan the big attack.
The saviour — in plainclothes in the first half and then inexplicably slipping into khaki post-interval — is top cop Veer Sooryavanshi, who will stop at nothing to bring these criminals to book. Even if that means being estranged from his wife and having to give up living with his son. So when his city is under threat, Sooryavanshi races in all guns blazing and we get a film that, after a slow-ish start, kicks into Shettyverse top gear.
And when we say Shettyverse, we mean the film-maker’s ambition to expand his cop universe that started with his last film Simmba and goes a notch higher in Sooryavanshi. However, those expecting to see Sangram Bhalerao aka Simmba (Ranveer Singh) and Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) with ample screen time will have to remain content with their presence in an extended climactic sequence. As mentioned earlier, Sooryavanshi is an out-and-out Akshay Kumar show, a baritone-spouting ‘Sooryavanshi’, followed by a deafening signature tune — a prerequisite for every cop in Shetty’s universe — blaring in Dolby every time the man is on screen. Which accounts for 140 of the film’s 145 minutes. Everywhere you look, Sooryavanshi is just around the corner.
Which leaves the film’s leading lady Katrina Kaif with very little to do, apart from appearing in a couple of scenes and a few songs. But Katrina’s remarkable screen presence and vastly improved acting chops power her through. The attempt at recreating the iconic Mohra number, Tip tip barsa paani, picturised on Akshay and Raveena Tandon close to 30 years ago, is passable, but Kat’s sizzling moves in a shimmery silver sari more than make up for it.
The one big problem with Sooryavanshi, however, lies in its constant stereotyping of religion and community, with more than one scene underlining the ‘difference’ between a ‘good Muslim’ and a ‘bad Muslim’. Most of it is cringeworthy — especially the frequent othering of the community — and Shetty’s last-ditch attempt to mend matters by showing Hindus and Muslims coming to each others’ aid in times of distress even as Hum Hindustani plays in the background, comes off as both feeble and fake. The makers may argue that we are in it largely for the entertainment. I buy that partly, but we are in times where divisiveness and othering is no laughing matter, not that it ever was. Not the new normal anyone would want.
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