Movie Review: Ek Villain (2014)

Ek_Villain_Poster2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Despite director Mohit Suri’s protestations to the contrary, Ek Villain (“The Villain“) is a remake of the 2010 Korean thriller I Saw the Devil. A remake isn’t necessarily inferior to the original, nor are comparisons between the two always fair. Still, Suri abandons some of the core elements that made the original so compelling in favor of a convoluted, morally conflicted story that gets overwhelmed by its own ambition.

In Ek Villain, Sidharth Malhotra plays Guru, a former mafia hitman reformed by the love of a good woman, Aisha (Shraddha Kapoor). On the very day that the elements of a happy future fall into place for Guru and Aisha, she’s murdered by a stranger.

The police try to use Aisha’s murder to trick Guru into taking out his former boss, Caesar (Remo Fernandes), but clues point Guru toward an unlikely killer: a family man named Rakesh (Riteish Deshmukh).

All this is revealed early in the movie because the question is not who killed Aisha but whether her death will cause Guru to revert to his old, murderous ways. Aisha gets a lot of airtime via flashbacks to her early romance with Guru, as she softens up the tough guy with her aggressive cheerfulness and bad jokes.

Guru is underdeveloped, despite a bunch of flashbacks to how he became a contract killer. His past matters less than what he does in the present, but several key choices that would reveal the state of Guru’s character development are taken out of his hands. The subplot about Guru’s relationship with the police doesn’t make much sense, either.

Rakesh is the film’s most complicated character, so much so that perhaps he should have been the protagonist. That would’ve allowed for Suri to use an anti-hero to explore the plight of middle-class men in India, a motivating factor sited by Rakesh. But because Rakesh is only the villain, his rationale (and the lack of pushback against it) is more troublesome.

The serial killer in I Saw the Devil murders women because he considers them all to be symbols of past sexual rejection. He doesn’t choose his victims because they personally have rejected him but simply because they are there and they are women. The point of his murderous misogyny is that it is random and universal.

Rakesh, on the other hand, doesn’t murder randomly. He punishes women he believes have wronged him, whether by mocking him, by exercising authority over him, or just by asking him to do his job more efficiently.

This is a very different kind of motivation than random gender-specific homicide as it allows for victim-blaming. If only his victims had treated him politely, Rakesh might not have attacked them. Rakesh’s twisted ideology is reaffirmed by his friend, Brijesh (Kamaal R. Khan), who slaps his wife and visits brothels, which he considers the only ways for a modern middle-class man to relieve his frustration.

Brijesh’s views, Rakesh’s murder spree, and the fact that Guru is solely concerned with revenge for Aisha, not with preventing Rakesh from hurting other women, combine to create an undercurrent of acceptance of violence against women. In Rakesh’s mind — and maybe in the mind of some audience members — the women he kills had it coming.

Ek Villain invites so much analysis because Suri feels the need to explain everything. If some relevant point isn’t shown in a flashback, the characters give detailed descriptions of what happened and why. Suri isn’t content to let the audience figure things out for themselves.

The movie’s saving grace is its relatively brief runtime of just over two hours. That keeps the action moving along, especially since Rakesh delivers much of his expository dialogue while Guru is beating him up.

The music is pretty good, and there’s some fine camerawork throughout, too. An impressive fight scene when Guru confronts Caesar is shot with minimal edits in a nod to another dark Korean film, 2003’s Oldboy. (Oldboy was remade in Hindi in 2006 as Zinda, but that film totally botched its recreation of Oldboy‘s signature one-take hallway fight scene.)

Suri deserves credit for picking a quality film to recreate, and Ek Villain has a lot of elements to recommend it over other Bollywood fare. However, many of the changes Suri makes to accommodate a mainstream Hindi-film audience distract from the film’s core themes. It’s almost a success, but not quite.

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19 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ek Villain (2014)

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  2. Nicky

    Kathy,

    I am all against misogyny, sexism, violence against women but in your quest to underscore these points in a movie aren’t you becoming too subjective and not objective in your review? Currently, these things do happen in a society, definitely wrong ,but don’t you think the filmmaker should have the freedom to portray a character who does those bad things?
    For example in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” ,the film maker was criticized for depicting the extreme duress applied to interrogate detainees. Now these things did happen in the real World & if the filmmaker feels it is important to depict such a scenario why judge him? Surely, it doesn’t mean that the film maker supports interrogation techniques applied like water boarding which are considered cruel & inhumane.
    Now if you stop including characters in your script based upon their actions which would deem bad in a real life society then all movies would be one-dimensional.
    A film like Grand Masti where almost every scene is at expense of women, I understand & support your concern but in this movie Ek Villain just because Rakesh kills woman for the reasons specified in your review doesn’t mean the filmmaker accepts violence against women.
    This is my perspective which may be right or wrong. I am not saying your reasoning is wrong altogether but my rather bigger question is where do you draw the line?
    Sorry for the long post, just wanted to give my perspective & understand yours as well ! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the thoughtful post, Nicky. I agree that filmmakers need to be able to include characters who exhibit aberrant behaviors in their films. As much as I love unapologetically happy films like Queen, not everything needs to be flowers and unicorns. But I think there’s a fine distinction to be made about the way Ek Villain treats violence against women, and it’s an important one.

      [Fair warning: plot spoilers ahead.]

      As I mentioned in the review, the killer in I Saw the Devil murders women at random. There’s nothing the women do to provoke their murders, and that adds a sense of urgency to stop the killer. Rakesh attacks women for very specific reasons: he kills nags. His wife’s nagging behavior drives him to it, and Brijesh backs him up that this nagging is a problem. Every single woman in the movie — except for Dr. Padma but including Aisha — is a nagging shrew who makes Rakesh feel bad. If only these controlling women would just shut the hell up, life would be so much easier for middle class guys like Rakesh.

      There isn’t any moral counterpoint to Rakesh’s murderous inferiority complex. Heck, I was longing for Guru to give a speech about how Rakesh doesn’t really know what love is. If the alternative is men killing women at random, it makes Brijesh slapping his wife seem almost benign.

      The thing that most validates my concerns is that Rakesh is ultimately rewarded by getting the thing he most wanted: a confession of love from his wife. Had he not killed all these other women and gotten himself in trouble with the police, she never would’ve felt that she needed him. I was also troubled by fan reactions on Twitter praising Riteish Deshmukh as the real hero of the movie. I’m hoping that they were just praising his performance (which was very good), but maybe not.

      I promise, Nicky, I don’t go looking for faults in movies where they aren’t there. The longer I thought about this movie, the more it bothered me. Thanks again for writing. πŸ™‚

      Reply
      1. Nicky

        Thanks Kathy for taking my comment in a positive spirit & elucidating your thoughts on the same in a comprehensive manner &! I can now see where your concern stems from !
        What more can i say except for happy movies ! πŸ™‚

        Reply
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  7. Deepak C.

    Didn’t even know there was a Hindi remake of Oldboy, thanks for the info. May have to check that out since I just recently saw the Spike Lee version (which, in all fairness, is not terrible – I can imagine liking it as much as the original if I had seen it first).

    But I’m going to have to skip Ek Villain for the simple reason that Mohit Suri made Aashiqui 2, arguably the worst Hindi movie of the last few years and certainly the most overrated. I really don’t need to see anything Mohit Suri has up his sleeves, even if this movie has Deshmukh and Malhotra, both of whom I like.

    Reply
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