There are many scenes in Gabbar Is Back that made a packed audience of film journalists laugh out loud at its press screening in Mumbai, but none as effectively as this one. A forty-something violent do-gooder named Gabbar (Akshay Kumar) is at a graveyard in broad daylight. An anti-corruption crusader looking to change the system, he and his merry band of vigilantes have kidnapped a highly corrupt police officer, who is to be executed soon to serve as an example. His sort-of love interest has found out that he is a wanted criminal in the eyes of the law.
As the scene approaches peak melodrama, one of his accomplices comes up running up to him with some very important news: his name is trending on Twitter at the number 1 position.
Gabbar Is Back is this kind of film, which hops genres, sensibilities, and levels of logic with sure-footed ease and Kumar's goofy grin on its face. As an out-and-out masala entertainer, it is one of the more effective films I've seen this year. Its 131 minutes don't feel like too much of a chore to sit through. I am literally as surprised as you are.
But, obviously, not all of this may be intentional on the part of the filmmakers. Gabbar Is Back is the fourth remake of Ramanna (2002), the Tamil hit that also spawned Tagore (2003, Telugu), and Vishnu Sena (2005, Kannada). We're watching a copy of a copy of a copy, whose Hindi makers had the brilliant idea of giving the central character an ironic twist i.e. naming him after Hindi cinema's most iconic villain.
This decision, complete with subtle-as-a-hammer recitations of Amjad Khan's immortal lines in his unforgettable style, was an obvious ploy to get audiences into theatres. Because, let's face it, take away the character subversion and the movie's storyline of vigilante justice is as formulaic as can be. There are times when Gabbar also simply feels like a more f**ked-up version of Munnabhai.
Speaking of Rajkumar Hirani, one of the film's earliest surreal moments -- and there are many -- involves easy-peasy childbirth. Shruti (Shruti Haasan, presumably named so because she didn't want to mask the tattoo of her name on her shoulder) is a lawyer who helps her friend deliver a child (a hilariously fake rubber baby; perhaps the same one from 'American Sniper'?) in the backseat of a car she just flagged down -- in what is possibly the shortest period of labour in human history. At the wheel is Gabbar, also known as Aditya, a bearded, incredibly fit college professor who is seriously popular among his students. His physics lecture -- where he attempts to explain the different kinds of forces (inaccurately) -- is rudely interrupted by gunda-types, so he decides demonstrate what he is talking about by brutally beating them up.
"As an out-and-out masala entertainer, it is one of the more effective films I've seen this year. Its 131 minutes don't feel like too much of a chore to sit through. I am literally as surprised as you are."
What's almost impressive about Gabbar Is Back is how sincerely its hackneyed script tries to set up sub-plots and give its characters genuine traits as well as, occasionally, self-awareness. The college principal steps in to admonish Aditya/Gabbar for being violent on campus. A rotund, samosa-loving cop gets his Gelusil as well as his just desserts later in the film. A corrupt public works officer, upon hearing of Gabbar's exploits, decides to mend his ways and returns bribe money to a potential contractor -- but doesn't forget to add that he'll sign his file only if his track record is legit.
Written by Rajat Arora (The Dirty Picture, Kick), the script often makes its characters think out aloud in English. However, combined with its melodramatic style, where characters suddenly yell out loudly to convey life's frustrations, this often proves to be unintentionally hilarious.
Then there are the surreal moments that you will probably appreciate, especially if you watch this movie after hanging out with Puff, the Magic Dragon. A flashback song featuring Kareena Kapoor Khan, featuring lots of frame-rate manipulation, is shot like an early '00s music video. A conversation between Gabbar and arch-villain Digvijay Patil (Telugu actor Suman), who plays a ruthlessly corrupt builder, descends into an unbelievably hilarious shouting match about who is the bigger 'brand'. In another moment, Patil is examining CCTV footage and keeps yelling 'Zoom!'; the camera, dutifully adhering to the laws of meta, zooms in on Patil's face every time.
"We're watching a copy of a copy of a copy, whose Hindi makers had the brilliant idea of giving the central character an ironic twist i.e. naming him after Hindi cinema's most iconic villain."
But despite all this, there is a certain assembly-line efficiency that Telugu director Krish (making his Hindi film debut) brings to Gabbar Is Back. Kumar throws punches as well as smouldering stares with practiced and equal ease, although the flashback in which he looks like a desi Tom Selleck may lead to unintended giggling. The cinematography by Nirav Shah (Dhoom, Dhoom 2) gives the film a polished look (barring a couple of 'bad chroma' moments), and the urgency of the narrative is conveyed well through some of his fancier shots.
As for Shruti Haasan, we will just have to ignore her as neither her performance nor her character affect the film in any significant way. Bechdel Test? What's that?