Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how I review films and why I do the things I do. Unlike a lot of reviewers, I really don’t like to give “stars” or letter grades to films because I don’t think it’s a meaningful way to talk about film. Is it fair to give 2.5 stars to a film that I enjoyed, just because it didn't hit me as deeply as some other film that I also enjoyed but gave a 3.5 to? The whole ratings game is stupid and pretty useless in telling people whether or not I enjoyed a film and whether or not people reading the review will enjoy a film.
I’ve also been thinking about my tendency to give more positive reviews to films I see in the theater. The experience of watching a film, in the dark, on a BIG SCREEN where you can’t fast forward or pause to go get snacks, can tip a mediocre film into enjoyable territory for me. That is what happened with Action Replayy, for example. I know the film was stupid and the story was full of holes big enough to drive a time machine through but seeing those song picturizations done really big and just enjoying my favorite on screen were enough for me. Would that film work as well on DVD? Probably not. If I reviewed it again for Box Office Poison, I would probably rip it to shreds. On the small screen, with the ability to fast forward, things like Aditiya Roy Kapur’s annoying girlfriend (Sudeepa Singh) become intolerable. On the big screen, I have enough patience to wait her out. On the small screen, mountain top songs are boring. On the big screen, mountain top songs are majestic and overwhelmingly powerful in scope.
The reason I bring all of this up is because Force is not a “five star” film, nor is it one of those films that will translate well to home viewing, but it is a film I enjoyed watching at the cinema and it is one that I would recommend if you enjoy South Indian revenge films.
Force, a remake of the 2003 Suriya film Kaakha Kaakha, is the story of Narcotics Officer Yash (John Abraham). Yash is the kind of guy who is consumed by his work. He doesn’t have a personal life and his co-workers call him dull behind his back. Yash is okay with this; Yash draws strength from his single-minded focus. Problems begin for Yash when two new people enter his life - bubbly, sassy, take charge Maya (Genelia D’Souza) and the dastardly drug lord Vishnu (Vidyut Jamwal).
There is a lot to enjoy about Force but it had a few glaring problems and I’ll run through those first. The biggest problem I had with Force is that the ‘everyday life’ and ‘romance’ sequences were all really awkwardly put together - like director Nishikant Kamat had no idea how to effectively pivot between action and romance, an essential skill for anybody attempting to to make a masala film. It wasn’t performances or the script that felt awkward but more the choice of cuts and weird blocking. There is a scene very early on where Maya sees Yash, who is in plainclothes, beating up a rowdy but she has no idea that Yash is police officer and is horrified. The way the sexy music comes in as Yash sees Maya while he’s still punching the rowdy and the way the camera zooms in Maya’s horrified face just felt off. And there are some other ineffectual montages of the characters talking while romancey-music plays instead of just showing actual interactions. This was probably done in the interests of cutting down the run time but I would have preferred another 15 to 20 minutes of Genelia and John over the awkwardly inserted telephone commercial montage.
Aside from the amateur hour stunt that opens the film - where you can clearly see the wires attached to John, really, the only other thing that niggled was the boring performance of Mohnish Behl, who played Yash’s brother-in-law. The role is an important one but Mohnish Behl was so bland that my eyes couldn’t stick to him. It was to the point where after a scene, I couldn’t even remember who he was when he showed up on screen again the next time. An actor with more gravitas - like an older hero such as Suniel Shetty or a reliable character actor like Atul Kulkarni - would have really given an emotional bump to the ending.
But, like I said, there is a lot to like about Force.
First of all, the scriptwriter Ritesh Shah (who I just checked and also did the story for one of my favorites - Aladin) did a great job at crafting the character of Yash to fit John’s abilities and his hero persona and despite the romancey scenes being poorly directed. I also thought the relationship between Maya and Yash was superbly crafted. Where Yash is reticent, Maya is forward. Yash is smitten by her openness and Maya clearly falls for Yash (at first, anyway) because he looks like John Abraham. And, yes, Yash calls her out on it. It’s almost a reverse of that tired old trope where a hero falls for a heroine because she’s gorgeous and then wears her down. Make no mistake, Maya is the aggressor here. (And we all understand why - Yash does look like John Abraham, after all.) The romance is the heart of the film and I think it works.
John is wonderful as the sturdy, somewhat dull, Yash. His physique is impeccable, naturellment, but more importantly - I believed it. I believed when he fell in love, when he was angry, when he was sad, and when he was joshing around with his co-workers. John’s biggest weapon, however, has always been that panty-dropping smile - which has over 1,000 fans on FB - and it was effectively deployed at opportune moments but not overused.
As for John’s heroine, Genelia D’Souza is a delight and it’s always a pleasure to see her on screen. To her credit, she sells the sexually forward Maya with no embarrassment (or sleaze) whatsoever.
I want to talk about the villain, who was amazing, but I have to give some supreme shoutouts to the pack of actors playing back-up to John. I don’t know if the hero rolled with a gang in the original film but praise be to the scriptwriter who gave Yash a bossy and warm-hearted sister (the divine Sandhya Mridul), a yuppie co-worker who dresses like he works at a call center and sleeps in a room with a giant picture of himself over his bed (cutie-pie Amit Gaur), and a brash, big-mouthed co-worker who likes to crack jokes (Kamlesh Sawant). All of whom find the perfect straight man in John Abraham.
The pack of rowdys surrounding the villain were great, too, and a special shoutout to Mukesh Rishi for doing what he does best - playing the heavy - and Ninad Kamat made an impression on me as the weaslly builder Vashu. As you may have noticed, I love scene stealers. And I love looking at interesting faces, and there were plenty of both in Force.
Now, I’ve gone on record saying a hero is only as strong as the villain he has to defeat. Well, John has his work cut out for him with Vidyut Jammwal, playing Vishnu. This guy was amazing. From his introduction scene to his final bow-out - neither of which I will spoil for you - he kept my eyes glued to the screen. Vidyut has the fluid grace of an uncaged tiger. He drew the camera to him with a single tilt of the head. He singed the hearts of the ladies in the back row of the theater with his smouldering gaze. He was monomanicaly evil and I loved it. The last five to ten minutes of the film is a giant fight between Yash and Vishnu and I wanted to rewind and watch again. He’s just that good.
Visually, this was a film made for the big screen, with a lot of wonderfully stagy shots - like a scene where Kamlesh is surrounded by shipping containers and they look so tall and he looks so small or another scene where Yash quips that some drug shop is “closed for business” as it goes up in flames behind him - that would look a lot less powerful on a TV. The music was okay. I still think the vocals of “Khwabon Khwabon” were pitched too high but the picturization works much better on the big screen, where you can really see John’s expressions in some of those middle-distance shots. And the full version contains some welcome glitzy costumes and tacky dancing that provided a much-needed burst of color into the film.
The violence. Oh, the violence was fantastic. As were all the shots of Yash and his gang strutting around and being badass together. This is not a film for the faint-hearted. Dolce and Namak actually just posted something on violence in South Indian films that I feel also applies to Force. The script interestingly leaves it kind of open as to whether or not Yash is justified in playing out his lethal policing. His rigid moral compass prevents him from compromising with the criminal element but it’s that very inability to give a little that leads to the tragedy he suffers. His strict inner rules both make him a good cop and a bad member of society. And, so, his violence against the bad guys is justified but is it worth it in the end? I don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed watching it.
Taken all together, Force reminded me more of a South Indian film than any other Hindi remake I’ve seen recently. There was no *winking* tone to the audience; the costumes and sets were very naturalistic (i.e. NOT Yash Raj rich or Yash Raj “quaint”); and the violence was casual and bloody. I like all of those things.
I liked Force.