Confession: not only have I not watched 'ABCD' (2013), the first Hindi entrant in the decade-old 'hip hop dance film' genre, but 'ABCD 2' was my first time watching a Hindi movie in 3D.
The beginning of this week's major release, starring Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor, was therefore already a bit of a revelation. As the innumerable credits that feature media, marketing, and digital partners appeared on screen, I found myself fascinated by how different brand logos seemed to be at different distances from my eyes.
Anyway, 'ABCD 2', which I'm told has a much higher budget than its predecessor did, begins rather impressively, with a futuristic dance performance over the opening credits that looks like something out of 'Tron: Legacy'. Sachin-Jigar's music, a mixture of glitch-hop stutters and over-compressed dubstep-influenced beats, sets the tone straight away and I found myself thinking about how a viewer who expects more conventional, melodious music from Hindi films might react to this.
We're taken to the finals of a 'Dance India Dance' type reality show, where a team from Mumbai's Nalasopara, called the 'Mumbai Stunners', has put on a pretty spectacular show. However, the show's judges (which includes Remo D'Souza, the film's director) aren't impressed: the routine, they say, is a step-by-step rip-off from one by the Philippine All-Stars, a world-renowned dance crew. Crew leader Suresh (Dhawan, annoyingly enthusiastic but sincere enough) earnestly denies the allegation, but they are disqualified from the competition anyway. In their neighbourhood, people who had been supporting the crew start shunning them and calling them 'cheaters', as though they were all S. Sreesanth.
Perhaps I'm stupid to expect some sort of adherence to internal logic in a movie whose title could easily be a child's first words, but it bothered me that this episode was never addressed adequately, since Suresh doesn't deny doing it later. So half the crew quits because they can't take the humiliation from friends, not because their choreographer plagiarised an entire routine from a YouTube video. The others, including lone girl dancer Vinnie (a passable Kapoor) stay... I don't know, because they really like him, I guess?
It's at this point that the movie distracts us by introducing Vishnu (Prabhu Deva), a drunk who comes regularly to the bar Suresh works at. He also happens to be an insanely good choreographer and dancer. This leads to one of the best parts of 'ABCD 2' -- the song 'Happy Hour', which gives us the opportunity of watching Prabhu Deva move his age-defying, fluid body while we think regretfully about how long it's been since we attended a yoga class (maybe that's just me).
Prabhu Deva in a still from 'ABCD 2'
Suresh — through a number of clichéd, meant-to-be-funny scenes — tries to convince Vishnu to coach them for the upcoming World Hip-Hop Championship in Las Vegas. Many montages follow, which include a Tintin-like sight gag involving bubbles (mostly to justify the 3D), a run-of-the-mill audition sequence, and the return of a few cast members from the first film and, yay, the Mumbai Stunners are back together! Hearts xoxoxo rainbows sunshine unicorns dot jpg!
Oh, wait, there's the entire second half with the competition itself, Las Vegas montages, trash-talking/bonding with other international teams, the introduction of another dancer named Olive (Lauren Gottlieb), an emotional sub-plot involving Vishnu, and at least one racist German dude. Oh, and also there's an appearance by Pooja Batra, who hasn't looked this good on screen in years (memories can be deceptive).
'ABCD 2' has about 30 more minutes of plot than it needs and could have benefitted from a little less self-seriousness. Aside from that, it does its job quite admirably. Sure, the dance sequences are derivative -- in the tradition of similar Hollywood franchises like 'Step Up' (which I have watched) -- but the execution is pretty bang-on and it helps that D'Souza and cinematographer Vijay Kumar Arora have staged and shot them pretty spectacularly. Every now and then, there are moments that are surprisingly restrained as well as genuinely heartwarming.
And despite the over-the-top-ness and the general inanity on display, you might even find yourself rooting for 'India Stunners' in the movie's appropriately emotional climax. That's the surest sign of a genre film having gotten at least the basics right.