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Himmatwala review: No entertainer, this!

Sajid Khan
Ajay Devgn, Tammannaah
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The original Himmatwala (1983) was no classic, but it remains iconic for the genre and era of films it has come to represent. It’s a symbol of all the melodramatic ‘maa-beta centric’ films where the heroine quickly changes from western to Indian wear after being tamed by the hero, and songs are sung around giant, colourful sets. Despite all its faults, Himmatwala (’83) remained earnest, offensive in an innocent kind of way, and loads of fun.

Now we come to Himmatwala (2013) that walks around with a chip on its shoulder. Recent interviews by the makers suggest a certain chest-thumping tone. In one, Ajay Devgn even suggested that anyone else doing the film would lead the title to be called Himmatwali. Indeed, the film is as tasteless as its air of supremacy. To be fair, Sajid Khan has had a faultless run at the box-office and Ajay Devgn has tasted success in every genre he has tried. But despite the powerful combo, this film falls short and how.

The core story remains the same. A revered man is insulted by the village’s self-crowned king Sher Singh and his family ousted. The son runs away only to return after two decades. Now this son, the 'Himmatwala', is all set to take revenge. Yup, these three sentences pretty much cover it.

When Ravi A.K.A Himmatwala (Ajay Devgn) arrives in his village to see his mother and sister suffering, he thunders to Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar), ‘Kasam meri ma aur behen ki, teri zindagi ki maa-bahen kar doonga’ (I swear on my mother and sister, I will mother-sister your life). The coarse dialogue makes you cringe. What happened to the sweet Himmatwala played by Jeetendra— the tough-guy who fought goons but was also refined enough never to utter an abuse insulting women?

That’s followed by a portion sure to make Hitchcock turn in his grave. You have Sher Singh and Ravi recreate the shower murder scene from Psycho! If this is Sajid Khan’s way of paying homage to his favourite films, it just doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, we realize that Himmatwala who can break locks with his bare hands is pretty soft in the head still. He can thrash a circle of goons, but won’t touch his brother-in-law who’s been beating up his beloved sister. The mother explains, ‘Dulhan ki doli jis ghar mein jaati hai, wahin se uski arthi uthti hai’ (When a bride is wed in a house, she can leave it only after death). So they watch as the sister suffers domestic violence, because you see, breaking the violent marriage is somehow worse.

Sajid Khan adds in a few of his own inputs. There’s a pretty strong twist before the interval. And he adds a nasty gang-rape attempt scene for god-knows-what reason. In keeping with its regressive tone, the film cheerily copies all the original’s outdated sensibilities.

The heroine (Tamannaah Bhatia) quits her short skirts for flowing dupattas the minute she’s in love with Ravi and is done saying, ‘I hate gareebs’. The mother sister and girlfriend are ‘responsibilities’ to be protected, preserved, and fought on behalf of. Of course, as the hero proves, they have the additional use of being used in abuses.

Khan’s smart-alecky touches like the characters talking directly to the audience falls flat. The story drags along, tepidly for the most part. The film, oddly obsessed with tigers, has the finale unfold in an unintentionally comical manner.

Himmatwala also falters with the casting. Ajay Devgn is a reasonable choice, but has done so many alpha-male roles, he could play this character in his sleep. While Sridevi’s role in the original was pedestrian, her screen presence was so tremendous, it made the role memorable. And Tamannaah Bhatia’s performance is just not strong enough. Mahesh Manjrekar filling the shoes of Amjad Khan as Sher Singh is a fatal mistake. You also have to watch the talented Zarina Wahab play the sobbing mother, the latest go-to Bollywood mom.

Kader Khan’s dialogue remains unmatched and incapable of being judged. Lines like ‘jang jeetne wali muskaan’ (the smile of a battle won), ‘tujhe bina phatak ki railway line pe lita doonga’ (I will make you lie down on the railway line without a gate) and ‘Mere paap ke kachre ko apni imaandaari ke jhaadoo se saaf karde’(sweep the garbage of my sins with the broom of your honesty) are just precious.

These dialogue gems, the ‘Naino mein Sapna’ and ’Taki Taki’ songs, and the core story are the only interesting bits in the film, incidentally all borrowed from the ’83 film. Even more regressive than the original and not half as engaging, it’s ironic that the film ends with the words— A Sajid Khan “Entertainer”.

Verdict: One and a half stars


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