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FINALLY, HERE'S a script — explosive. Actually, here's a movie this year. Absolutely riveting.

Director Rajkumar Santoshi's men couldn't have given a more accurate picture of the state of affairs and law and order in the country. What he also does in the process is pays a tribute not just to the police force, but also to one of Bollywood's favourite protagonists - the `imaandar police officer' (the classic tough and honest cop - the `Zanjeer' types) and of course, to Hollywood's gripping cop tales. It is electrifying entertainment with not a dull moment (if you excuse the songs thrust in). Where Bollywood masala meets Hollywood technique. Where old-school idealism meets contemporary remedies for corruption in the 21st century. And where a by-the-book Deputy Commissioner of Police Anant Srivastav (Amitabh Bachchan), on the brink of retirement, meets a corrupt senior Inspector Shekhar Verma (Akshay Kumar) and enthusiastic rookie sub-inspector Ashwin Gupte (Tusshar), and sets out on a dangerous mission - to transfer "ISI agent" Iqbal Ansari (Atul Kulkarni) from Chandangarh to Mumbai - with the help of two constables and damsel-in-distress social worker Mahalakshmi (Aishwarya Rai). The latter turns out to be a surprise package.

The overnight journey soon springs on them unlimited twists, unexpected turns, dark alleys, surprise shootouts, rude shocks and some soul-searching moments. Ajay Devgan plays the dangerously intelligent, vindictive antagonist Angere - the smooth operator, an old foe of the DCP. The first half moves at breakneck speed, with a restless camera (K. V. Anand is brilliant) catching up with the non-stop action set in the larger than life canvas, capturing the death-defying getaways set in desolate landscapes (the scene picturised with hundreds of cattle is a highlight).

The realism of the state of affairs in the first half soon gives way to idealistic dialogues in the second. An aging Amitabh Bachchan is first rate with his trademark delivery, be it spouting lines on duty or lashing out at the extent of corruption or letting out his steam and pent-up emotions, frustrated at the state of affairs. Akshay Kumar provides the comic relief with his `I'm cool' flirtatious attempts to woo Aishwarya and Tusshar plays the foil to his seniors - a neat essay.

A little pace is lost in the second half because of the dialogues, song and dance, but thanks to high production values and charismatic star appeal, you really don't feel the length - 2 hours and 54 minutes.

`Khakee' is great evidence of what smart writing can do to a film - the duo of Rajkumar Santoshi and Shridhar Raghavan, deserve all the credit for packing the punches the film delivers. The larger effect of `Khakee' is so powerful that you tend to forgive minor flaws in scripting (in fact, unless you are very attentive, you wouldn't even notice the flaws). The music (by Ram Sampat) is typical Bollywood fare, but with so much else constantly happening, you sure won't be complaining.

It's the director's show all the way. The filmmaker who has consistently been churning out good cinema surprises you yet again with a daringly different genre.

In the end, your heart will go out to the men who stay awake so that you can sleep, the men who risk their lives, miss out on their families and so often are troubled with the rot in the system. `Khakee' is not just about good or bad cops. Breaking stereotypes, the film explores the various shades of khakee - the clean, the tainted, the dirty, the grimy, the sweaty and the bullet-ridden. Mr. Santoshi, here's a salute.


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