A smartly-crafted action comedy that thrills and tickles in equal measure, An Action Hero’s punches land on target in more ways than one. On the surface, the premise seems bizarre and difficult to sustain interest for two hours, but the rich characterisation, rapid pace, and intelligent plot devices make it a piquant entertainer that makes sharp observations on the fickleness of fame and futility of bloated egos along the way.
Set in the times of post-truth when the media and intelligence agencies could make or break a celebrity, the film makes a stinging comment on their work in a fun way. There are segments where it goes a little too over the top and tests our suspension of disbelief, but eventually the hero finishes with a flourish.
Manav (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a raging sensation who is known for his action-hero roles in films. During a shoot in Haryana, he inadvertently kills the bully of a fan who turns out to be the brother of the local centripetal force Bhoora Solanki (Jaideep Ahlawat). Bhoora might be just a municipal councillor, but he is no less than a star.
As the incident threatens to spoil his carefully-crafted career, Manav escapes to London, but Bhoora tracks him down before the cops to avenge the death of his brother. The core idea reminds me of films where fans and stalkers turn rogue, but debutant writer-director Anirudh Iyer and co-writer Neeraj Yadav have seasoned their tale with a delicious Haryanvi nonchalance that has impudence for authority and reputation.
It sparks a chase that spirals into a game of one-upmanship between a satellite and a star. Every time, the narrative sags, Iyer adds a character and a wicked twist. Be it a self-seeking computer wizard (Neeraj Madhav), the hyper-ventilating media, or the graceful don (Gautam Joglekar) who is also looking for Manav to nurse his bruised ego and show to the world that the underworld is still in business, the writers weave a series of situations that kick up a storm of satire which lasts for a while.
With his image at stake, Manav bites the bullet to prove that he is worthy of the action hero tag. For Bhoora, a man of his word, it is a matter of salvaging his pride. Both are morally ambiguous, and as a character says in the film, they are in real danger of becoming friends, if not a mirror image of each other. Bhoora lets Manav know that it is the love of the audience that makes the stars and that they cannot take it for granted. In turn, Manav defangs Bhoora to prove that the Jat boy’s bark doesn’t necessarily allow him to bite.
Image change and body chiseling notwithstanding, it is hard to believe Ayushmann giving it back to Jaideep in well-choreographed action sequences, but in terms of the point that the writers want to make, it holds.
The characters’ dialect and dialogues (Yadav) are not just to evoke laughter, but to also convey a sense of the mind space and background they hail from. Even the cameos by Akshay Kumar and Malaika Arora form a comment on a section of the industry and are integral to the story. So does the iconic Nazia Hassan number Aap Jaisa Koi which has been used to add a layer to the don’s story, who is living in a time warp.
Running in a slightly different terrain, Ayushmann not only charms as the narcissistic Manav but also brings out the vulnerability of a star who suddenly finds himself alone despite all the money and fan following at his disposal. The actor captures the transition of Manav from a cornered larger-than-life figure to a shrewd cookie, without letting go of the sense of compassion that an artist exudes.
However, it is Jaideep who sets up the pace of conflict with a pitch-perfect performance of a wrestler-turned-politician, fuelled by caste pride. Jitender Hooda is equally impressive as the slimy local police officer serving the interest of the local star. Watch out for the scene where Jitender questions a DOP’s contribution to society, which is a hilarious social comment on the region. The conversations between Jaideep and Jitender sets the pace for this off-roader.
An Action Hero is currently running in theatres