After the jingoistic but ultimately shallow Gadar
, you couldn't be blamed for being under the impression that director Anil Sharma probably doesn't have the pulse for true character beats, and it was proved correct with his subsequent duds. And then there's Sunny. Increasingly getting typecast as the tough Jat in mindless action films, his presence was getting stale even in the Northern hinterland where he reigned supreme.
Apne, then, is a great return to form for both of them, with Sharma finally delivering the emotional chops that his films lacked, and Sunny giving up the changa munda
image for his first real character
in a long time. Surprisingly, however, the film may be redemption for both these men, but it is the ultimate swansong for Dharmendra, who comes out all punches flying as the best thing about the film.
After a string of bad decisions that saw him in weird sex comedies with Mallika Sherawat and the like, Dharmendra finally got a chance to show his screen presence in Life… In A Metro
. He builds on that newly rediscovered confidence and delivers a performance that is truly multi-faceted. For a character in his seventies, the emotional journey that Dharmendra undertakes for him is truly terrific.
There is a resonance in his sub-textual acting that has been rarely seen recently, and it is hard to believe the sort of investment he makes in his accomplished portrayal. He is Baldev Choudhary (for all the new-found confidence, the film's script suffers from a touch of the old, this shopworn name being case in point), ex-boxer and Olympics silver medalist. Darkly enough, he was unceremoniously banned from boxing for 15 years on false doping charges.
The haunted reminiscence and dogged perseverance that Dharmendra brings to fore for this character is great, but another facet – he pushed elder son Angad (Sunny) to become the heavyweight champion, trying to redeem himself through his son – gives a character edge to him, and he plays it to the hilt. Angad, though, gave up on this, and at the risk of his father's anger, he takes up agricultural business. Needless to say, relations are strained.
There's a slight emotional undercurrent that is not over the top here, that reminded me of the Rocky films. Also, in something straight out of Rocky V
, an up-and-coming boxer (Aryan Vaid) comes to Baldev to help him become a champion pugilist. Ego and passion for the game makes him coach the boy with singleminded dedication, only to be dumped once again, this time for another coach. This proves to be staggeringly difficult for him to come to terms with, and he suffers an emotional breakdown.
Enter younger son Karan (Bobby Deol). A musician at the dawn of his stardom, he decides to take up boxing instead of music to help his father cope with the crisis. Let's not mention that he was paralyzed and gets miraculously healed. Rigorous training, and many bouts later, he finally loses to the current heavyweight champion, Luca Gracia (Jonnie Brown), and suffers injuries that paralyze him. Again I must come to the Rocky referencing, with this fight and its outcome eerily familiar to the fourth film. Angad decides to take up boxing to avenge all wrong, and clear his family name once and for all.
After intense training condensed into a month, our man from Punjab goes ahead to challenge the heavyweight champion. While looking at it in retrospect, I do feel that the story is standard sport inspirational movie stuff, with bits taken from here or there, but the way it has been tightly woven with fully realized characters thanks to some top notch acting by the three Deols (yes, even Bobby shows tremendous restraint and vulnerability), the plot becomes a great pivot between the director's jolly-natured world view and the themes that he infuses in the film.
Some scenes have been obviously well written for the Deols to show their acting chops, but the overall screenplay is slow and hackneyed. The dialog is a true blast from the past – and I don't mean that in a good way – and the pacing is way off. The indulgent nature in which the screenplay is written and in which the director shoots his subjects adds up to some very limp segments, and a 2 hour 50 minute runtime.
It's hardly the epic that Sharma thinks it is, but the film is an entertaining and largely okay time at the cinemas, though the crew involved has indulged in boring beats and lengthy pauses in the narration to give it a slightly above than average intellect. That is where the film's failings lie. The luxuriated pace makes us feel that Sharma thinks way too much of this effort, and the sincerity in the forced scenes is truly lacking. The lack of focus in the slower moments is only the director's fault, though, as the actors try and push themselves with an easygoing chemistry that they obviously share.
In his ultimate ode to all things Deol, Sharma also forgot to give any sort of character to the leading ladies. While Kiron Kher at least gets to act as a Punjaban, the other two (Shilpa Shetty and Katrina Kaif) are purely eye candy. Ultimately it's this hubris that lets an otherwise perfectly capable film down.
Oh, and the music is screechy and terrible. This when the music director's acting debut
is up as well. Do give it a look-see if you've ever been a fan of any of the Deols, they're all in top form. In an otherwise good time at the cinema, try and look beyond the wanton extravagance of screen-time.