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Commando 3 movie review: Vidyut Jammwal flexes his muscles while talking down to India’s Muslims

A study of Bollywood’s Commando series could be the basis for a PhD in opportunism. Commando: A One Man Army, released in 2013, was about a loyal Armyman being abandoned by the Indian government when he is caught in enemy territory. Off screen, India got a new government in 2014 and with it arrived the Hindi film industry’s open subservience to the establishment. So Commando 2: The Black Money Trail in 2017 batted for demonetisation. And now, as Islamophobia rages across India, here comes Commando 3 with its cringe-worthy condescension towards India’s Muslims.

The third instalment of Commando, this one too starring Vidyut Jammwal, is directed by Aditya Datt whose best-known feature so far is the Emraan Hashmi-Tanushree Dutta-starrer Aashiq Banaya Aapne. Jammwal’s Karan Singh Dogra this time is on a mission to track down a London-based terrorist running a conversion racket in India that draws innocent Hindu boys to the Islamic fold and brainwashes them into committing violence for Allah along with other Muslims. Buraq Ansari (Gulshan Devaiah) is as evil as a human can be. We first see him heavily veiled. His face is revealed in a scene in which he forces his little son to watch as he brutally murders a man.

Working alongside Karan is his sidekick Bhavna Reddy played, as she was earlier, by Adah Sharma. The mix this time is sought to be revved up by the addition of the British Intelligence agent Mallika Sood (Angira Dhar) who is based on the same prototype that has yielded the Bond franchise’s ‘Bond girl’.

The women in Commando 3 are occasionally given space to display their fighting skills and in that limited time Sharma and Dhar show us how immensely capable they are, but make no mistake about this: the primary purpose of their existence in this screenplay is to compete for Karan’s attention so that while he goes about the serious business of saving the country, we never forget that he leaves la femmes weak at the knees.

The subordination of women to the hero in Commando 3 is nothing compared to the film’s messaging about Muslims. The problem is not with the depiction of a terror network operating in the name of Islam — that such organisations exist must of course be acknowledged; the problem lies with the manner in which this film seeks to hold all Indian Muslims accountable for Buraq Ansari’s actions in a way that the public discourse has never held India’s entire majority community accountable for the wrongdoings of individual members.

Commando 3 is strategic while building its case. It is careful to prepare alibis for itself even as it lectures India’s Muslims about their duty towards the nation at large and their Hindu brethren in particular.

For instance, mention is made of beef-related lynchings and other genuine grievances of the Muslim community, which can be held up to anyone who accuses the film of being one-sided. Here’s the catch though: if majoritarian fundamentalists object to the acknowledgement of these crimes by their group, the defence is no doubt a scene right at the start where a Muslim terrorist was shown instigating his flunkeys to kill a calf to stir up trouble. The insinuation is that even the lynchings of Muslims have been the fault of Muslims.

While the principal evil Muslim in Commando 3 spends his time plotting against Hindus, the good Hindu hero waits for a Muslim terrorist to finish his namaz before capturing him. Oh look ye, respect!

(Minor spoilers in the next two sentences) The sermonising directed at Muslims peaks in a video appeal Karan publishes, aimed at inspiring the Muslim masses to thwart Buraq’s plan to attack the Hindu masses. The video and the subsequent scenes of Muslims rising up in response are dripping with a patronising attitude. (Spoiler alert ends) They are also amateurishly written and in your face, epitomised by that shot before the credits roll of a Hindu man and a Muslim man standing shoulder to shoulder right after they together fire a flaming arrow at an effigy of Ravan.

Those who wish to understand the difference between the mischief-mongering by Commando 3 and a factual portrayal of Islamic terrorism would be well advised to watch Anubhav Sinha’s Hindi film Mulk (2018) .

Commando 3’s minuses don’t end with its troubling politics. The Indian agents in London come up trumps despite being dumb, lax, over-confident and foolhardy, because these qualities are what the writing team perceives as bravery. (Some people may deem the next sentence a spoiler) For instance, both Bhavna and Karan, despite being undercover agents, blow their own cover early in the narrative to draw the snake out of his hole: she tweets about Karan from her actual ID and he releases a video to the media revealing his identity, both of which are somehow meant to be clever moves. (Spoiler alert ends)

Jammwal, Sharma and Dhar do what is required of them well enough: she and she scrap over him, all three beat up people, they glare, they stare. I experienced a little heartache though at the sight of a fine actor like Gulshan Devaiah reduced to over-acting as Buraq Ansari.

Commando 3 is technically glossy and the fight choreography is slick. The writing though is contrived. The film is filled with lines like this one tossed at Buraq by Karan, “Pehle purdon mein chhupa karta thha, ab mardon mein?” (Earlier you hid behind a veil, now you hide behind men?) as the latter walks towards him surrounded by armed guards, but the dialoguebaazi is tiresome and soulless. Even if this were not the case, it is appalling that the populist stereotypes in the script target an already vulnerable people.

It becomes evident in the end though that none of this comes from a place of conviction. So unsure of itself is Commando 3, that after all its bloodshed and bhashans the end credits run alongside not one but two formulaic song and dance routines.

First comes this kiddish Hinglish number lip-synced by Karan:

Tere peechhe main
Mere aage tu run-run
Kabhi aage tu
Kabhi peechhe main fun-fun
Dekhega jalwa ab toh tu
With my gun-gun
Ek hi toh bachke niklega
Yeh toh done-done.

As if that is not ludicrous enough, there follows Karan dancing with the two women in skimpy, sexy attire, ending on an image of him in silhouette with a Ravan in the background.

Kumaraissance: Tracing Akshay Kumar’s reinvention from ‘Khiladi’ to India’s most bankable star

Just this year, Akshay Kumar has delivered two crackling performances in two very different films and won the National Award for his work in 2016’s Rustom.

He also launched Bharat Ke Veer, a website and app that enables donations to families of army personnel.

His social media feeds are peppered with videos that address social issues. Akshay’s public image is currently undergoing a multi-media reinvention.

And, then there were buzz-worthy moments when he sang Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’ to his wife Twinkle Khanna on Koffee With Karan or when he thanked his ‘overpaid trainer and underpaid cook’ while accepting the award for ‘Most Beautiful Man of the Decade’ at the recent Vogue Beauty Awards 2017.

We’re in the throes of a full-blown Kumaraissance, and it’s been long overdue.

For about three decades, Akshay has been a Bollywood A-lister, which in itself is a genuine accomplishment. But his career spanning 124 movies has mostly banked more on ‘Akshay the Star’ rather than showcase his talents as an actor. His filmography has the odd Sangharsh or Dhadkan but action and comedy has always been his forte.

From being stuck in the doldrums of mindless films like Rowdy Rathore and the Housefull franchise, Akshay seems to have re-invented himself as an actor who is not just pushing boundaries but also consistently delivering hits.

In the last two years, he has picked films unlike anything he’s done before. Rustom was based on the Nanavati murder trial of 1959 that transformed the judicial process in India. His portrayal of Naval officer KM Nanavati earned him the National Award.

He essayed another real-life character in the hugely appreciated Airlift. Akshay delivered his first blockbuster of 2017 as the Lucknow-bred underdog lawyer Jagdishwar Mishra aka Jolly in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB 2. In Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which released on the Independence Day weekend,

Continuing the trend, Akshay’s next release Padman will attempt to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene. Directed by R Balki, the film is based on the life and work of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur who invented a low-cost sanitary pad making machine.

The actor is also filming director Reema Kagti’s Gold, a sports drama on the hockey team that won the first Olympic medal for India as a free nation in 1948.

What is common to Akshay’s recent films has been the focus on meaningful stories. He’s moved beyond generic masala crowd-pleasers to films that do more than just entertain.

Many credit Akshay’s association with filmmaker Neeraj Pandey for triggering the Kumaraissance. The duo first collaborated in the 2013 heist thriller Special 26 and, since then, Neeraj has directed Akshay in the spy film Baby and co-produced Rustom, Naam Shabana and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

After decades of being Khiladi Kumar, Akshay is going towards not having an image. While his contemporaries like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are struggling to reinvent themselves, Akshay has laid claim to being the ‘superstar everyman’.

(Clockwise from top left) Stills from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Padman, Jolly LLB 2

Whether he is Kuwait-based Indian businessman Ranjit Katyal spearheading the largest civilian evacuation in history or cycle store owner Keshav who would do anything to build a toilet for his wife, Akshay never stops being a Bollywood hero. There is also enough swagger, high-decibel dialoguebaazi and humour to keep the single-screen viewers happy. His directors seem to have found that elusive balance between realistic and revved up.

If we measure this shift in Akshay’s career in terms of financial success, it’s obvious that the audience loves it.

Raking in Rs 126.94 crores at the box-office, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is this year’s highest grossing Hindi film as yet. Also in the 100-crore club are Jolly LLB 2 (Rs 117 cr), Rustom (Rs 124 cr) and Airlift (Rs 123 cr).

Akshay has been one of Bollywood’s most bankable actors but at a time when the industry is going through a slump, he is undoubtedly Bollywood’s biggest money-spinner right now.

In the past, Akshay has always managed to stand up to the draw of the Khans but this reinvention has given him a substantial edge over his contemporaries. It’s their move now.