This week, the good old Mahesh Manjrekar joins the likes of Rahul Rawail and Satish Kaushik — competent filmmakers who are roped in to launch/resurrect family products by Bollywood bigwigs on a tried and trusted track. When in form, Manjrekar has the ability to engage the audience with old-school melodrama. In Pravin Tarde’s Marathi hit, Mulshi Pattern, here, he has potent material to work upon, but the presence of a star almost overshadows his expression.
Also Read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox . You can subscribe for free here
With farmers’ protests trending in mind space, the film’s underlying theme of the social cost of development is easy to relate to. Here is a farmer (Sachin Khedekar) who is forced to sell his land. He spends most of his money on family obligations and is reduced to a security staff guarding what was once his own fields. He is humiliated for plucking vegetables from the land he once tilled.
His son Rahul (Aayush Sharma) fails to process this change where human dignity and social status are usually not calculated while arriving at the price of agricultural land. When the family migrates to Pune, Rahul gets into a Deewar’s dock scene kind of situation where the angry young man makes somebody else’s fight his own.
It spirals into a series of events and Rahul gets sucked into a vortex of crime and politics, alienating him from his conscientious father. Like the Vijay of yore, Rahul is chased not only by law and rival gangsters, his conscience also tries to catch up with him.
Unlike many recent Bollywood films, Manjrekar doesn’t normalise depravity. He keeps it an equal opportunity game, for characters on either side of the moral divide. Rahul’s school teacher spits on him when he tries to grab his land. The drunkard father (Manjrekar himself in a lovable cameo) of Manda, the girl (Mahima Makwana makes a confident debut) Rahul loves, says, when he buys medicine for headache after checking the expiry date, how could he invest in a guy whose shelf life is so short. The honest policeman’s hands are tied by corrupt political bosses but he could still show a gangster or a self-seeking lawyer his place. Such scenes remind of the Salim Javed era of mainstream cinema where the anti-hero was constantly shown the mirror.
Manjrekar also draws from his biggest hit, Vaastav, as one could see shades of Raghu in Rahul. Aayush’s body language and dialogue delivery remind of Sanjay Dutt’s portrayal of the boy who gets caught in the quagmire of crime, and gradually struggles to choose between right and wrong.
Like Sanjay, Aayush perpetually carries furrows on the forehead. Somebody could have told him that creases should develop or recede on their own as per the intensity of the scene.
Having said that, in his second film, Aayush is not bad at all. He can hold his own in front of seasoned performers like Khedekar and Upendra Limye, has a deep timbre and the camera seems to like him.
However, Manjrekar has to justify producer and brother-in-law Salman Khan’s presence as well, ostensibly to guarantee a good opening. So the role of police officer Rajveer Singh, who takes on Rahul, swells beyond proportion and muffles the voice of the film.
In fact, it is Salman who falls short of expectations. With no back story, he, inexplicably, chooses to play Rajveer in a safe, restrained fashion. Had he brought a little more colour to the air-brushed Sikh character, his battle with Rahul would have been much more fun. Perhaps, he wanted the focus to be on Aayush, but his stiff presence neither helps the cause of the film nor of his fans.
Moreover, every time Rajveer enters the scene, the background score shoots up by a few decibels. The theme song suggests that the Bhai is some sort of replacement of God, during a crisis. If Salman wanted to play a character, why did he carry his off screen baggage?
The songs are pedestrian, action average and the idea of police putting two rival gangs against each other has been used so many times by Ram Gopal Varma that it has lost its novelty. The saving grace is that even when the narrative sags, it doesn’t lose its moral fibre.
Antim: The Final Truth is currently running in theatres