If you look at Mohit Suri’s past work, it’s easy to assert that male rage is a recurring theme in his movies. But it’s not just undirected rage, it’s often very specific. From Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain to Hamari Adhuri Kahani and Murder 2, which this film bears most similarities to (also set in Goa), the men in Suri’s universe often feel threatened and emasculated by women who end up bearing the violent brunt of their insecurities.
Suri is a promising director who - barring that awful Half Girlfriend - has dabbled in dark ideas but is often crippled within the confines of mainstream sensibilities. Kalyug, Woh Lamhe, Awarapan were all films rooted in stories that were, at one point, lowkey Bollywood noir, but post that, he hasn’t been able to make a film worth remembering, unless you recall one of his movies only because of its songs.
His latest, Malang, is an 80s potboiler enclosed in a faux millennial module. There’s the brooding hero, Advait, (Aditya Roy Kapur), betrayed by a system (police) he has sworn to avenge, the damsel-in-distress, Sara (Disha Patani), who must be rescued; drugs, alcohol, because Goa, yo, and finally, seedy cops (Anil Kapoor, Kunal Kemmu) who conduct encounters as easily Tiger Shroff does backflips. There’s a late ‘feminist’ spin in the end, but by that time, so many women in the film have been horrifically brutalised that it feels like an afterthought a male writer had about projecting his own wokeness.
Advait and Sara are gorgeous people who have a quick fling, like gorgeous people perhaps do. Such is the nature of their raging hormones, when they first meet (at a music fest, of course), sparks literally fly - there are fireworks in the sky. Talk about subtle metaphors. Next morning, she wanna bounce because he was just on her ‘to-do’ list. Lol. When he asks, she simply says she wanted to have, “Stranger ke saath wild wild... you know what....” But then she stays, because, in life, she wants ‘simple moments but complete.’ And, “main cheezein nahi yaadein collect karungi.”
At this point, it must be said that Disha Patani acts as if she’s been punished to. Even in moments that are supposed to be tender, there’s terror on her face, as if Calvin Klein has threatened to withdraw their endorsement deal. Her voice feels dubbed in a manner that doesn’t match the expressions on her face which strains visibly, revealing the effort she has to put in saying lines of dialogue. Roy Kapur is relatively better, but as he switches from ‘carefree-lover’ to ‘deadly-killer,’ he basically goes from being himself to someone trying to contain a particularly stubborn fart. There’s a whole lot of Anil Kapoor, but more on him, in a bit, after I snort my issues out with his hammy as hell performance. Kunal Kemmu has a significant part and the actor is efficient in what is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.
The film’s screenplay, credited to Aniruddha Guha, intercuts between two timelines. In the present, where fresh-out-of-jail Advait is killing off people responsible for framing him. The past is the love story. There’s a sub-plot which emerges as the main conceit of the narrative involving an impotent cop, who, bizarrely blames his condition on a bullying mother (what!) without that monologue being challenged or countered. Well, men must always find reasons to project their failings on women.
Between dialogue that sounds like it’s been stole from the slam book of a prepubescent teenager and a screenplay that goes progressively bonkers before combusting into flames, Malang struggles to make sense, inspiring neither empathy for its cardboardy characters nor any faith in their superfluous romance. What’s more bizarre is that the makers went to Goa for the churches and the streets and old Portuguese houses but decided to outsource the beaches to Mauritius, because that’s what you get in budget-exotica.
Somewhere, in here, was a complex story of how archaic notions of masculinity, coded in social behaviour, messes up male psychology, leading to violent outbursts. However, Malang isn’t interested in exploring such Almodóvarian ideas and instead chooses to sacrifice its female characters to advance the hero’s narrative before circling back for a lazy, ill-conceived spin. Moreover, its attempts to critique toxic masculinity, appear farcical when the film ends up perpetuating the same ideas of manhood it set out to critique. Just how many women need to brutalised for Mohit Suri to make a film about male vengeance?
And then there’s Anil Kapoor. A trigger-happy, dope-headed cop with a tragic backstory, Kapoor’s Anjaney Agashe could’ve been deliciously over-the-top but here, he’s been given lines that sound over-written and his performance is more gimmicky than genuine. While I’m convinced that this never occured to the makers, but the only way Malang resonates in the current moment is in its indictment of police brutality and the shocking ease at which state-sanctioned murders take place. But this isn’t a movie about that. It’s about going all the way to Mauritius and finding out it looks like a colour-corrected version of Goa.