2 Stars (out of 4)
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Laal Rang (“The Color Red“) is a treat for Randeep Hooda fans, but it’s not an especially good movie.
Although Hooda is the biggest star in the cast, he doesn’t play the protagonist. That gives him the freedom to chew through scenery like a wood chipper, but at the expense of screentime given to another character who frankly sucks.
That character is Rajesh (Akshay Oberoi), a young guy from a modest background who’s studying to be a laboratory technician. In his lab tech program, he meets Poonam (cute Piaa Bajpai), a fellow student with whom he falls in love. It’s also where he meets Shankar (Hooda), an alluring criminal who sells blood.
International moviegoers may find the setup for Laal Rang confusing. Sophomore writer-director Syed Ahmad Afzal’s story assumes that the audience has a certain degree of familiarity with the Indian hospital system. (This knowledge prerequisite was also a problem in Afzal’s first movie, the political drama Youngistaan.) Without such background information, the very notion of an illegal blood trade sounds bizarre.
Based on what I’ve learned from other Hindi films, Indian public hospitals require the families of patients to source their own medications and supplies needed during the course of the patient’s hospital stay. This is opposed to the American system in which the hospital provides everything during the patient’s stay and bills the patient later.
The premise in Laal Rang is that men like Shankar exploit Indian’s chronically short supply of blood — another problem that is sadly not explained — by selling blood bags at exorbitant prices. Shankar’s blood is either stolen from other hospitals or donated by junkies looking to earn a few extra rupees. A lab tech degree would make Shankar’s black market enterprise even easier, hence his enrollment in a program with students at least a decade his junior.
Shankar is cut from the same cloth as Matthew McConaughey’s character Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. Not only are both characters much older than the people they hang around with, but they have the same sleazy charisma. Shankar is kind of gross, but his throaty laugh and magnificent hair make one overlook his less savory qualities. Watching Hooda ooze his way through his scenes is a lot of fun.
Rajesh takes one look at Shankar’s spinning belt buckle and cool motorcycle and decides he wants in on whatever action this dude is running. Soon enough, Rajesh is delivering blood bags on Shankar’s behalf and raking in the dough. Rajesh romances Poonam on the side in a boring subplot that forces Hooda offscreen.
Rajesh justifies his illegal activities by saying that he needs the cash so that he can marry Poonam, but he’s really just greedy and impatient. There’s no reason why he and Poonam can’t wait to marry until they graduate and find jobs. Then Rajesh spends his first big windfall on his own motorcycle and a wardrobe modeled after Shankar’s signature look: boots, jeans, and a flashy shirt.
A couple of characters tell Rajesh that he’s a good person, but there’s nothing to substantiate that. He turns to crime because he wants easy money. As soon as he’s out from under Shankar’s wing, Rajesh does something so heinous as to be unforgivable.
Yet Rajesh never pays for his crimes. His otherwise upstanding parents don’t want to know where his money comes from, and Poonam doesn’t care. Rajesh doesn’t really learn anything or develop a conscience, so what’s the point? Why is he the main character?
Perhaps making Hooda’s character the protagonist and giving him a growth arc would have cut down on his swagger. Who knows? Still, when the only reason to watch Laal Rang is for Hooda, why not just cut out the rest of the fluff and let us enjoy him?