Zero Stars (out of 4)
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I’d been looking forward to Drona more than any other Hindi film scheduled for release this year. I am a fantasy and superhero film junkie. Maybe that’s why I found Drona so disappointing.
First-time director Goldie Behl took elements from popular Western fantasy flicks and tossed them into a film with a flimsy narrative, without understanding why films like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Matrix were so successful.
Drona begins with an orphaned boy named Adi living as the ward of a strict stepmother who dotes on her biological son. It’s essentially the same opening as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Fast forward to Adi as a young man, working in his stepmother’s shop and covering for his incompetent stepbrother. It’s not clear exactly how old Adi is supposed to be, but I’m sure he’s not supposed to be 32, as is Abhishek Bachchan, the actor who plays him.
Strange things start to happen when a cheesy magician named Riz Raizada (Kay Kay Menon) comes to town. See, Riz isn’t just a half-rate prestidigitator with a fauxhawk. He’s also a demon. He sends his black-cloaked henchman (a la The Black Riders in Fellowship) after Adi.
Adi is saved by Sonia (Priyanka Chopra), a mystical ninja chick wearing an unflattering pirate bandanna and boots that look like garbage bags wrapped in caution tape.
Turns out, Adi is the heir in long line of heroes, called Drona, whose duty it is to protect the Nectar of Immortality from demons like Riz Raizada. It’s not clear on whose behalf the Drona protect the Nectar of Immortality. If it could save him from dying at the hands of a demon (as has apparently happened to all previous Drona) why doesn’t Adi just drink the stuff himself?
Instead, Adi seeks out the location of the Nectar of Immortality in order to protect it from Raizada, completing tasks along the way. After each task — each of which is supposedly the last thing he needs to do before finding the Nectar — he learns that there’s just one more thing he’s gotta do first.
Raizada, like any villain worth his salt, simply lets Adi lead him to the treasure.
Nothing about the plot is particularly original, but most fantasy films owe their plots to something that came before. The problem is that the world Adi is asked to step into as Drona doesn’t feel complete, nor do its problems feel imminent or even all that dangerous: two factors that made The Matrix so engaging.
The alternate dimension in which the Nectar exists includes the requisite magical dwarf and invisible staircase — but it also has locomotives. Adi inherits the Drona costume worn by his father, and presumably all of the Dronas throughout time — and yet the boots have zippers. Time and again, Behl fails to consistently integrate technology into his magical world.
It’s not even clear what danger an immortal Raizada poses to the world, apart from an eternity of his crappy magic shows. Sure, Riz has henchmen who beat up a few people, and he’s got some creepy marionettes who stabbed a guy on his command, but the magician doesn’t have a grand evil plan.
Such plot incongruities could be forgiven if we actually cared about the characters. I didn’t. Chopra’s character shows up out of nowhere, because, apparently, as there is a line of Dronas, there is also a line of sidekicks.
Adi fails to inspire as a hero. He never does anything to earn our respect or prove that he deserves the powers he’s inherited. It’s not even clear what his powers are, except that he seems periodically able to punch stuff very hard.
I admire Goldie Behl’s goal of giving Indian children a hero to look up to, played by a familiar actor who speaks their language, instead of superheroes imported from America. But Drona won’t cut it.