Force 2 got off to a powerful start at the North American box office, especially considering its small theatrical footprint. From November 18-20, 2016, Force 2 earned $115,762 from 46 theaters ($2,517 average). Its theater count ranks 35th out of 46 Hindi films released here this year — tied with Mastizaade — yet it performed well enough to rank 27th in terms of opening weekend gross and 17th in opening weekend average. Here’s how star John Abraham’s other 2016 releases fared in their opening weekends in North America:
Dishoom: $435,497 from 111 theaters ($3,923 average)
John Abraham’s Inspector Yash returns for Force 2, a more straightforward action flick than its romance-heavy predecessor. Intriguing international locations and a solid cast make this a fitting follow-up to 2011’s terrific thriller.
Five years after the murder of his wife Maya (Genelia D’Souza), Yash is drawn into another conspiracy. Someone is assassinating agents of RAW (India’s CIA, essentially) working in China, using information from within the organization to locate targets.
One of those agents is a childhood friend of Yash’s who managed to send an encoded message to his buddy before his death. The leak within RAW works at the Indian embassy in Budapest. The call to action jars Yash out of his vivid hallucinations of Maya and back into reality.
RAW isn’t about to let Yash tear apart Hungary on his own personal revenge mission. He’s assigned to work under the supervision of agent KK (Sonakshi Sinha), who has contacts in Budapest.
There’s some back-and-forth about the superiority of investigation methods preferred by each law enforcement branch — patient data collection by RAW versus gut feelings by the police — but this ends quickly. KK showcases her reliable instincts and Yash his observation skills, even if some of his investigation methods are unorthodox. KK describes her hair-triggered partner as “a bit wayward.”
Maya’s presence in the story — if only in Yash’s mind — precludes a romance between Yash and KK, allowing their relationship to develop based on professional camaraderie and trust. Abraham and Sinha have a nice rapport, and it’s satisfying to watch their characters learn that they are more effective working together than independently.
For as important a character as KK is, it would’ve been nice to see more of her backstory. At one point, I thought a subtitle read that the film’s villain was her fiance. It’s never mentioned again, so maybe I misread it. Subtitle pacing is a periodic problem, and some crucial voiceovers aren’t subtitled at all.
Sinha acquits herself well in the action sequences, and her character’s casual wardrobe in the second half of the film is killer. Abraham looks great at all times (one of the perks of his being a producer on Force 2).
Undoubtedly, the most compelling performance is by Tahir Raj Bhasin, who plays the villain Shiv Sharma. Bhasin has a threatening stare that he uses liberally, whether Shiv intends to convey his murderous intent overtly or disguise it behind a benign expression. There’s always something chilling about him.
Director Abhinay Deo of Delhi Belly fame has fun with the action scenes. He has Yash swing KK around as a weapon in one close-quarters fight. During a ballroom shoot-out, Deo films the events from Yash’s perspective as if it were a first-person-shooter video game. It’s really well-executed.
Though not as uniquely memorable as Force, Force 2 is still fun, violent action fare. I’d be happy to watch a third Force film.
Force is a damned fun movie, successfully integrating Bollywood’s signature “everything under the sun” approach to storytelling into an exciting action film.
Force opens with a man we later learn is named Yash (John Abraham) being thrown out of a window and over a cliff’s edge. He scales the cliff, only to collapse — body riddled with bullets — at the top. Taken by his friends to a hospital, his consciousness wavers as a surgeon begins to operate. Yash remembers… a montage?
Specifically, it’s a song montage featuring a beautiful woman named Maya (Genelia D’Souza). The song’s lyrics list the qualities any Bollywood heroine must possess: “The looks and complexion, the gait and attitude.” Maya certainly fits the bill.
The flashback takes us through Yash’s unconventional meet-cute with Maya, scaring her as he beats up drug dealers by throwing a motorcycle at them. Maya assumes — as do we — that tattooed, beefed-up Yash is a thug himself. A series of misunderstandings reveal Yash to be an undercover narcotics officer.
Acting on tips from an informant, Yash assembles a team of officers to help him obliterate the local drug trade: the veteran, Atul (Mohnish Bahl); the rookie, Mahesh (Ameet Gaur); and the loose cannon, Kamlesh (Kamlesh Sawant).
Meanwhile, Yash struggles with his desire to let Maya into his life. Atul’s wife, Swati (Sandhya Mridul), chides him for using Maya’s safety as an excuse to push her away. Swati explains that the wives of police officers know what they are getting into, and that it’s okay for Yash to allow himself to love. Cue the requisite romantic song number featuring Maya in a formal gown atop a sand dune!
However, Yash and his crew don’t realize that their successful operation opened the door for a new gang to take the drug trade in a more violent direction. Aided by his brother, Anna (Mukesh Rishi, best known as Bulla from Gunda), the sadist Vishnu (Vidyut Jammwal) returns from faking his death abroad to make the lives of Yash and his crew into a living hell.
Jammwal’s martial arts background makes him such an asset in action films. His skills enable impressive fight scenes that don’t rely upon wires and stunt doubles. Note how much longer the camera lingers on Jammwal during action sequences as compared to the quick cuts when Abraham fights.
Director Nishikant Kamat does some smart work in Force — aided by cinematographer Ayananka Bose and editor Aarif Sheikh — especially when it comes to storytelling efficiency. For example, when Yash and his crew concoct their plan to take out the gangs, the dialogue is delivered as though it is part of one continuous conversation, yet the camera cuts between the various groups of people involved at different points in the plan’s development. The first shot shows Yash receiving partial instructions from his boss; the second features Yash conveying the next set of instructions to his crew; then back to the boss, and so on. The audience knows that everyone involved is up to speed, without having to hear the same instructions twice.
Most impressive of all is a haunting song sequence that juxtaposes a funeral with violent action. As a mournful hymn builds to a crescendo, the camera cuts between mourners crying next to a pyre and Yash’s crew taking bloody revenge. It’s absolutely riveting, one of my favorite Hindi film song sequences of all time.
Force balances its darker elements with lighter ones, too. D’Souza is bubbly in the very best sense of the word, and her character gives Yash plenty of reasons to smile, bringing out Abraham’s softer side as a result. Swati, Atul, and the other members of the crew are sympathetic and well-developed, fleshing out the world in which Yash lives.
And then there’s that fight scene where Yash’s and Vishnu’s shirts simultaneously rip off for no good reason. Who wouldn’t be charmed by that?
As I walked out of the theater following Dishoom, I tried to downplay my concerns about the way the film handles its female characters. Then something in the lobby reminded me that one’s social conscience doesn’t turn off when viewing media billed as light entertainment.
Dishoom‘s main hero is Kabir (John Abraham), a tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s introduced tossing a man out of an elevator for daring to ask him not to smoke indoors. We’re supposed to laugh when Kabir tells the man that he offered to let him take the stairs instead.
In the next scene, Kabir meets his girlfriend, Alishka, in her apartment. He deduces that she’s been having an affair and that the man is hiding in the apartment. Kabir draws his gun, points it at Alishka’s head, and tells the hiding man that he has three seconds to reveal himself or Kabir will kill Alishka. (The man reveals himself, sparing Alishka’s life.)
Writer-director Rohit Dhawan underestimates how disturbing this scene is, lumping it in with the elevator scene as a means to establish Kabir as a rule breaker. I was almost lulled into acceptance myself until I saw something most ironic playing on a monitor in the theater lobby. There was Jacqueline Fernandez — Dishoom‘s leading lady and Kabir’s eventual love interest — dancing to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” in front of a banner that read “End Violence Against Girls.” (The video is embedded below.)
Violence against women is enough of a problem in India (and around the world) that Fernandez was moved to star in a public service announcement decrying it, yet her character in Dishoom falls for a man who was ready to murder his girlfriend. One step toward ending violence against women in the real world is to stop normalizing it onscreen.
The scene with Kabir’s girlfriend is such a shame, because Dishoom is otherwise a pretty fun movie. Kabir travels to the Middle East to find a kidnapped Indian cricketer (played by Saqib Saleem) before a high-stakes match with Pakistan. Kabir is aided by a rookie cop named Junaid (Varun Dhawan) and a wise-cracking thief (Fernandez).
The performances are uniformly solid. Varun (director Dhawan’s brother) supplies the laughs while Abraham serves as straight man. Fernandez gets to be funny, too — and she steals the show in the killer dance number, “Sau Tarah Ke.” Saleem does fine work, as does Akshaye Khanna in a villainous role.
Dhawan knows how to make a great-looking movie, full of bright colors and pleasing shots. The cricket scenes in particular stand out. Here’s hoping that Dhawan chooses a sports film as his next project.
Yet, for all the things that I enjoyed about Dishoom, it’s hard to fully recommend it given its troublesome lead character. It would be easy to write Dishoom off as a mindless action entertainer, but maybe that’s exactly why we should be even more critical of the message it sends about violence against women.
Here’s Jacqueline Fernandez’s PSA for The Global Goals:
When reviewing a remake, comparison to the original can be unavoidable. One can’t very well unsee a movie just to be able to evaluate its remake without preconceptions. The question then becomes: had I not seen the original, how do I think I would feel about the remake?
Had I seen Rocky Handsome first, I presume that I would have found it convoluted but interesting, especially in regard to its brutal violence and dark thematic elements. However, having already seen The Man From Nowhere — the South Korean film on which Rocky Handsome is based — the Hindi remake doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
Rocky Handsome‘s story is virtually identical to The Man From Nowhere, though the action shifts from Seoul to Goa. A solitary pawn shop owner (John Abraham) nicknamed “Handsome” by his neighbors goes on a killing spree when gangsters kidnap Naomi (Diya Chalwad), a neglected little girl who lives in his building. As Handsome tracks down Naomi, the cops and gangsters pursuing him learn the truth about this mysterious assassin.
Structural changes by director Nishikant Kamat and writer Ritesh Shah make the early parts of Rocky Handsome confusing. Apart from an opening credits musical flashback to Handsome’s romance with Rukshida (Shruti Haasan), the first twenty minutes focus on his tenuous friendship with Naomi, with only a glimpse of the girl’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Nathalia Kaur). There’s no setup for an intense scene when Naomi discovers her mother being tortured by gangsters in their apartment.
A flashback explains that, one month earlier, Anna stole some heroin without realizing it belonged to notorious mafia brothers Kevin (director Nishikant Kamat) and Luke (Teddy Maurya) Fereira. In The Man From Nowhere, the theft is the opening scene. The audience knows that there will be hell to pay, but not how or when, thus building tension, if not dread.
Also during the flashback, the local police present a rapid-fire montage of the main players in the Goa drug trade, as if it’s possible for the audience to remember so many characters and relationships introduced in such a short span of time.
The selling point in the trailer for Rocky Handsome is the movie’s violence, which is handled well. It’s bloody and cruel, and John Abraham successfully pulls off everything from shootouts to knife fights. A dilapidated church is an eerie staging ground for a climactic battle.
Abraham is less successful in his characterization. As a man grieving his dead wife, he seems more emo than haunted. He first appears on screen slouching under a hoodie like a sullen teen.
Characterization is the biggest problem in Rocky Handsome. Naomi is too chipper, especially compared to her world-weary prototype from The Man from Nowhere, So-Mi. The brothers’ Thai assassin Attila (Kazu Patrick Tang) is flat and has no impact on the narrative, unlike the vitally important Rowan from the original.
Worst of all is Maurya, who turns eccentric Luke into an impotent joke. There’s nothing frightening to Luke’s antics, and he becomes increasingly annoying the longer he’s on screen.
Truth be told, there are few tense moments in Rocky Handsome. Bollywood doesn’t do menace particularly well, though Kamat and Shah had a perfect template to work from. Though there’s plenty of gore, they shy away from the best opportunities to scare the audience.
As I wrote at the outset, if I hadn’t seen The Man From Nowhere, I’d probably have been more entertained by Rocky Handsome. If entertaining is good enough, then by all means, buy a ticket for Rocky Handsome. But if you want greatness, skip it and watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix instead.
Ahead of Friday’s release of Rocky Handsome, let’s take a look at how its star John Abraham fares at the North American box office. Since starting his acting career in 2003, twenty of Abraham’s films have released in theaters in the United States and Canada (at least as far as I’ve been able to corroborate with reliable box office information). Seven of those movies have made more than $1 million here.
It should be noted that all of those big-earners are either ensemble pictures or movies featuring another high-profile male star, such as Abhishek Bachchan in Dostana or Akshay Kumar in Desi Boyz. Films featuring Abraham as the sole male lead — as Rocky Handsome does — don’t perform as well.
Abraham’s career is a case of extremes. Besides those seven blockbusters, only two of his films have earned more than $400,000: New York and Madras Cafe. That leaves eleven titles in that sub-$400K category, many of which are Abraham solo projects.
The median John Abraham movie opens in 53 theaters in North America and earns $167,246 in its opening weekend, doubling its opening weekend returns over the course of a four-week-long run to wind up with a total of $338,791. Those expectations seem reasonable for a movie like Rocky Handsome, rather than holding out for the blockbuster numbers of a sequel like Housefull 2.
Wazir (“Queen,” as in the chess piece) opens with a bang but fails to earn its too-tidy ending.
The setup of Wazir is not to be missed. A montage of happy moments introduces anti-terrorism officer Daanish (Farhan Akhtar), loving husband of Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) and doting father of little Noorie. While running errands with his family in Delhi, Daanish spots a high-profile terrorist who was thought to be out of the country. Daanish pursues him, with catastrophic results. The sequence is fast, intense, and jaw-dropping.
Suspended from the force and guilt-stricken, Daanish befriends Noorie’s chess teacher, Panditji (Amitabh Bachchan). From his motorized wheelchair, Panditji teaches chess to children, all of whom outclass Daanish. Panditji informs his new student that the point of studying chess isn’t necessarily to win but to learn how to learn.
Panditji has an ulterior motive in befriending Daanish. One year earlier, Panditji’s adult daughter, Nina, died under mysterious circumstances in the home of the nation’s Welfare Minister, Izaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul). Qureshi says that Nina accidentally fell down a flight of stairs, but Panditji claims that he could tell from the look in Qureshi’s eyes that Nina was murdered.
A look in the eye is not much to go on. While the movie presents reasons to be suspicious of Qureshi, Panditji and Daanish don’t have access to the same evidence that the audience does. All the characters have to go on is Panditji’s gut feeling.
It’s hard to believe that Daanish would risk his life and career on the hunch of a man he only recently met. Even harder to accept is the participation of Daanish’s ranking officer (played in a cameo by John Abraham) in a crazy scheme that should result in his and Daanish’s court-martial at best, their deaths at worst.
The only reason that Daanish can take such risks based on so little information is that the story refuses to impose consequences on him. After brilliantly setting up Daanish as a man struggling with the consequences of a rash action, by movie’s end, he’s free to do whatever he wants in the name of what he considers justice. Never mind that he and John Abraham maim and possibly kill innocent people in the process.
In the course of the unsatisfying climax, the truth about Nina’s death is revealed in a way that feels too convenient. It doesn’t feel earned.
That said, the performances in the film are generally good, especially by Bachchan, who looks physically broken and world-weary. Akhtar is solid, but his character’s emotional range is limited by the plot (same for Hydari’s character). Abraham is good in his cameo, as is Anjum Sharma, who plays Daanish’s reliable friend and coworker, Sartaj.
Another selling point is Wazir‘s efficient runtime of just over one hundred minutes. The movie is exactly as long as it should be to sustain tension.
While imperfect as a whole, Wazir‘s thrilling opening action sequence is almost good enough to merit a trip to the theater. Almost.
Even at their best, writer-director Anees Bazmee’s movies are mediocre. At their worst, they are unbearable. Welcome Back is one of the worst.
In the eight years since the events of Welcome, gangsters Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) have left their criminal pasts behind, striking it rich as hoteliers in Dubai. Deciding that it’s time to get married and start their own families, they fall for the same woman: an heiress named Chandni (Ankita Shrivastava), who’s always accompanied by her mother, Maharani (Dimple Kapadia).
The guys’ marriage plans are put on hold when Uday’s father (also played by Patekar) reveals that Uday has another sister — Ranjhana (Shruti Haasan) — he needs marry off first. The “decent” guy they find for her, Ajju (John Abraham), turns out to be a don pretending to be something he’s not — just like Uday and Majnu.
The plot unfolds at furious pace but burns out quickly. After the first thirty minutes or so, very little that happens feels necessary. Everything else appears to be the indulgence of Bazmee’s whims. Helicopters? Camels? Vampire dance party? Check.
Welcome Back‘s story spins so far out of control that Bazmee doesn’t even try to give the film a real ending. He leaves his characters hanging in mid-air, literally and figuratively.
Watching the film becomes an endurance test in the second half, when Naseeruddin Shah shows up as yet another don, Wanted Bhai. At this point, Welcome Back descends to Gunda-level geographic incoherence. Wanted lives in a mansion on an island only accessible by plane. Yet — while on the island — Uday and Majnu are able to drive to a desert and to a mountain range. They also find a graveyard on the island, evoking more memories of Gunda:
It’s hard for any performances to stand out in a movie that requires its characters to behave so stupidly, but Shrivastava is pretty good as a gold digger. Her covert expressions of disgust while wooing the much older bachelors are funny. Kapadia is also exceedingly glamorous.
Another member of the cast stands out for the wrong reasons. Shiney Ahuja plays Wanted’s drug-addicted son, Honey, who is obsessed with Ranjhana. (Azmee doesn’t even bother explaining how Honey knows Ranjhana.)
In 2011, Ahuja was convicted of raping a member of his household staff and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is out on bail while appealing his conviction (a major difference from the American justice system, where sentences are effective immediately, and appeals are adjudicated while the defendant is behind bars).
Azmee says that he didn’t take Ahuja’s conviction into account when casting him in Welcome Back, simply believing that Ahuja fit the part. “I am a filmmaker,” Bazmee told IANS, “and I do not think about anything more than that.”
Are we supposed to believe that there were no other actors who could have played this particular supporting role? While Azmee may not be bothered by Ahuja’s criminal past, many people will be. When we see Ahuja grinding on Shrivastava in a “sexy” dance number, it’s impossible not to reminded of the fact that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.
Acting in films is a privilege, not a right. There was no reason for Azmee to cast Ahuja in this role at the expense of another actor without a violent criminal past. If Azmee can’t appreciate why this is a problem, is he the right person to helm a multi-million dollar film?
Madras Cafe vividly depicts the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war, while providing a glimpse into the complexities of efforts to bring the conflict to an end. The spy story at the core of the film isn’t watertight, but Madras Cafe is stirring nonetheless.
The narrative is bookended by the narration of a former Indian Army officer, Vikram Singh (John Abraham). Struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, Vikram recounts his role in the Sri Lankan civil war to a priest, hoping to ease the guilt from multiple deaths he was unable to prevent.
Flashing back to several years earlier, Vikram is sent to Jaffna, a city in northern Sri Lanka, to work with Indian intelligence agents to influence local elections in the hopes of ending the civil war through political reconciliation. This proves difficult not only because Anna (Ajay Rathnam), the leader of a militant separatist group, doesn’t trust the Indian government’s promises to protect the rights of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, but also because there is a mole working within the intelligence service.
Because of the complex nature of the conflict and the different factions operating with opposing goals, there are a lot of people and places to keep track of. This doesn’t pose a huge problem in following the story, but rather it highlights the impossibility of Vikram’s task. With none of the parties willing to compromise or trust one another, Vikram seems to be risking his life even though he has no hope of success.
The second half of Madras Cafe focuses on an assassination plot targeting a former Indian prime minister running for reelection on the promise to end the war in Sri Lanka. It’s revealed early on that the plot is successful, so the events show Vikram and other government agents as they try (and fail) to stop the assassination.
This portion of the story isn’t nearly as detailed as the events of the first half, to its detriment. It’s not entirely clear who is driving the assassination plot or why, apart from scenes of secret meetings in London’s Madras Cafe between Anna’s representatives and agents from “the West.” The movie doesn’t attempt to explain why Western governments would support the militants in opposition to an Indian government trying to stop a war in a neighboring country. This may be common knowledge to those familiar with the details of the real-life conflict, but a few lines of explanation wouldn’t have slowed the story.
The other disappointing aspects of the plots involving Westerners is that the characters who speak strictly in English sound as though they are reading their lines from cue cards. That goes for American actress Nargis Fakhri, as well. Fakhri plays Jaya, a British journalist who is nothing more than a plot device.
Abraham is good as Vikram, but his performance is too subdued. Abraham’s strongest role in the film is as its producer, where he again shows a knack for choosing interesting stories.
The depictions of the brutality of war are Madras Cafe‘s strongest suit. There’s a lot of blood and a high body count in the film, which is important for impressing upon the audience the horror of a civil war that lasted nearly thirty years and cost tens of thousands of lives. This is definitely not a film for the whole family.
The film’s score is understated and appropriate for the grim imagery. There are no song-and-dance numbers, which would’ve felt out-of-place. Though not flawless, Madras Cafe respects its audience and provides plenty of material for further reflection. It’s a film worth seeing.