Anirudh Iyer’s debut feature, An Action Hero, is a story of survival when one is with one’s back to the wall. Layering the film’s adrenaline-pumping fight sequences with some fine tongue-in-cheek dialogue, Iyer unabashedly sacrifices logic and subtlety at the altar of spectacle and humor. And while the film does have enough to keep us glued to our seats as it unfolds, it is not likely to be remembered too much once the end credits have rolled.
An Action Hero is narrated in a flashback by Maanav Khurana (Ayushmann Khurrana), an action hero and a heartthrob of Hindi cinema. It begins with a shooting schedule of a film that Maanav is doing in Haryana. Vicky Solanki (Sumit Singh), the brother of an affluent municipal councillor, Bhoora Solanki (Jaideep Ahlawat), wants to click a photo with Maanav as he feels it will be helpful as a publicity stunt for the upcoming election. In an ugly turn of events that leads to heated argument between them, Vicky is accidentally killed by Maanav. In a total state of panic, Manaav decamps to Southampton in the United Kingdom. Bhoora, seething with a vengeance for his brother, also leaves for the UK and begins his hunt for Maanav. Meanwhile, an FIR has been registered against Maanav in India, and he is soon the victim of a vicious trial by media. Now, Maanav has to escape not only from the lethal blows of Bhoora but also from the grip of the British police…
An Action Hero promises to be an exciting comic-thriller right from the start and it keeps us entertained with one amusing scene after the next. But despite the rigour and sincerity exhibited by the filmmaker and his screenwriter, Neeraj Yadav, the story of the film lacks emotional engagement with its primary characters. As Maanav is thrust into one perilous situation after another, he escapes so quickly from each of them that there is little sense of impending tension or danger. His transformation, too, from a fictional action hero to a real-life one is rather unconvincing – a case of much excessive creative liberty taken by the filmmaker.
Despite its flawed structure, the film does strike a few home truths. The power the media possesses to make or break people’s reputations resonates strongly. The impersonation of some of India’s most popular and outspoken news anchors is funny and yet relevant in equal measure. The hashtag ‘Boycott Bollywood’ campaign is also dealt with smartly in one of the scenes. When Bhoora tells Maanav that if he has become a star, it is due to the love and respect shown by the audience. Therefore he has no right to be arrogant toward them, a perceptive comment on the splintered image of a popular actor. The decision to do away with a female lead seems a better choice than giving mere lip service to a character forced into the narrative. At the same time, the inclusion of Malaika Arora in a remixed song within the film and the mandatory promotional song after the ending with Nora Fatehi provide further proof of Bollywood’s fixation with item numbers and female bodies.
The film also uses meta-references quite effectively, like when the character of Masood Abraham Katkar (Gautam Joglekar), modelled after the feared don Dawood Ibrahim, introduces himself to Maanav as someone who was killed at the end of Nikhil Advani’s D-Day (2013).
Ayushmann Khurrana brings the right amounts of arrogance, swagger, and vulnerability to his character. Even in the action scenes, he leaves no stone unturned to display his muscular machismo. The role of a menacing and egotistical Jat Bhoora Solanki required heavy lifting, which Jaideep Ahlawat expectedly does with aplomb. Even during the moments when he does not utter a word in his perfectly nurtured Hariyanvi accent, his expression itself is terrifying enough. Harsh Chhaya, who plays Maanav’s confidant and dependable manager, gives a satisfying performance while the supporting cast is spot on.
Kaushal Shah’s cinematography beautifully captures the rain-soaked location of the countryside UK in its typically depressing grey tones. There is a fluidity in his camera movements especially in the action scenes, where it appears as if the stunts are happening right in front of us. Ninad Khanolkar’s evenly paced editing makes the scenes flow seamlessly, and the brilliantly choreographed action scenes appear slick and pacy without feeling rushed. The sound design by Manik Batra makes sure that each punch, every bullet shot from the gun, and the roaring of each vehicle hit the right note. Sunny MR’s background score, while perfect at the beginning of the film, soon becomes redundant with it being employed in every scene, often resulting in noise. The rap songs composed by Parag Chhabra add a perkiness to the scenes.
An Action Hero is not perfect but nevertheless sits comfortably within the tropes of escapist fantasy that Bollywood is popular with. It’s worth a watch while it plays out but that’s really about it.
Hindi, Thriller, Comedy, Color