Mohit Suri’s Ek Villain Returns is a psychological thriller that is supposedly a spiritual successor to his 2012 outing, Ek Villain. The film, a cat and mouse game between the two protagonists, John Abraham and Arjun Kapoor, tries to deal with the moral quandary that whether a killer, under given and perhaps even justifiable circumstances, is a hero or a villain. But instead of any of the characters in the film, the actual villain turns out to be Ek Villain Returns’ weak screenplay.
The film begins intriguingly with the abduction of a young and popular singer, Aaravi Malhotra (Tara Sutaria), even as her friends are brutally killed while partying in her high-rise apartment. Thereafter, we go back in time to see a spoilt, brattish son of a rich industrialist, Gautam Mehra (Arjun Kapoor) forcefully gatecrashing the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, who had jilted him. He creates a huge ruckus at the wedding, which becomes part of a viral music video created by Aaravi. Surprisingly, instead of harbouring resentment against her, Gautam tries to win Aaravi over. He even helps her to reach the top as they sabotage the career of a competing singer, Qiran (Elena Roxana Maria Fernandes). Aaravi falls in love with Gautum only to be brutally betrayed by him in revenge for the music video. Naturally Gaurav becomes the prime suspect once Aaravi goes missing. ACP Ganesan (JD Chakravarthy), however, feels that Gautam might be innocent. Things take a shocking and dramatic turn once a cab driver, Bhairav Purohit (John Abraham), is interrogated by the police in connection to the case…
A psychological thriller depends on layering the psyche of the character(s) along with elements of thrills using clever and unexpected twists and turns within an intricately plotted story. But when such narrative devices are utilized arbitrarily more for momentarily (cheap) thrills, a film loses its compelling edge-of-the-seat factor. Ek Villain Returns is a classic example of this. It’s a pity because the plot and characters had enough scope to deliver a riveting crackerjack of a thriller. Suri and his co-writer, Aseem Arora, sacrifice character development at the cost of creating one thrilling event after the other. This is most apparent in Purohit’s character, which on conception seems to have its layers of fascinating complexity, but they never come through in the final film.
The narrative flow has its fair share of glitches. The track of Gautam getting Aaravi to fall for him is structured with a rather childish sensibility. Logic, so important in a thriller as audiences try to connect the plot and do their own subconscious investigation, is found wanting in the film. Not once but twice, Gautam makes a narrow escape from armed police personnel with a skill that would make the CIA proud. The first fight scene between Bhairav and Gautam inside the metro is staged within empty coaches as if other commuters already had a premonition of being in imminent danger and have thus vacated the train. However, above all this, the most problematic aspect of the film is the misogynistic way it treats its women. Both Aaravi and Rasika Mapuskar (Disha Patani) are painted as nasty, scheming individuals who will go to any length to achieve their objectives in life. What’s more every other passenger in Bhairav’s cab happens to be a woman and one who is cheating on her partner! Really?
Performance-wise, John Abraham as the troubled and disturbed Bhairav Purohit displays the same few wooden expressions he has been doing so for years. Though he gets ample screen time, he is let down the fleshing out of his character. He does manage to get a little empathy from us but that’s about it. Arjun Kapoor as the brash, cocky, and arrogant Gautam Mehra looks little more than a badly etched version of his own Parma Chauhan from Ishaqzaade (2012). Disha Patani as the conniving and manipulating salesgirl, Rasika, does try to sink her teeth into her dark character. However, the performance is still left wanting. Tara Sutaria seems a misfit in the character of the singing sensation Aaravi Malhotra and this reflects in her performance. Consequently, even during her key emotional scenes, she fails to earn our sympathy. While JD Chakravarthy plays a key role in finally identifying the serial killer, his character suffers from a lack of depth in his characterization and the screen time given to him, leaving him little to work with.
Cinematographer Vikas Sivaraman lifts Ek Villain Returns a notch, creating a color palette that includes luscious shades of black, blue and blood-red. The deft editing by Devendra Murdeshwar keeps the pace and the underlying tension within the film intact but is unable to overcome the film’s basic blueprint, its story. The background score by Raju Singh suitably evokes our emotions and retains complete control of the film’s fluctuating tones. The song sequences work organically enough to keep the plot moving forward. Suri, whose films are applauded for his strong musical sense, doesn’t let down the viewer this time either. Tracks such as Dil and Naa Tere Bin are well-composed and have an emotional resonance of their own. But the VFX is a big letdown and needed far more serious attention from the makers.
All in all, Ek Villain Returns, is a dissatisfying effort from Suri as he takes unwarranted freedom with suspension of disbelief to create a film that feels false as well as inconsistent.
Hindi, Thriller, Color