The Guy Fawkes mask used in the film V For Vendetta
has a cultural and historical context. Moreover, Hugo Weaving's operatic body language and his hypnotically chiming British accent lent it a charm of its own. Ism borrows the mask, and strips it off its context and aura.
That's forgivable if it is used just as a mask, but we see it turn into an emblem and a flag of the revolution this film is centred on. It feels just like meeting one of those Pawan Kalyan fans wearing Che Guevera T-shirts. And this appears only as a minor problem compared to the film's script.
Sultan aka Kalyan Ram (Kalyan Ram) makes a living on the illegal fight circuit (how else can Kalyan Ram and his six-pack both make a dazzling entry at the same time?) and has a passionate and self-confessed "ladies' weakness". Being a fervent believer of the theory that the passion and ability to chase skirts is the foremost of things that qualify a man as a man, he wastes no time in turning outright creepy, and relentlessly stalks a hot babe Alia Khan (Aditi Arya) until she gives up and falls in love. Because that's how guys get girls according to Puri's manual for courtship.
Alia happens to be the daughter of Javed Ibrahim (Jagapati Babu), the invincible mafia boss and international menace, catching whom is impossible, not because he is a master at hiding, but because his purse is full of influential politicians from all over India. It's no secret that his name is a sly to you-know-who. And given the tomfoolery his character is reduced to, just making him watch this movie is a very harsh punishment for the real life counterpart.
Kalyan Ram parallelly befriends Javed and they become beedi-buddies. Javed, unbeknownst of Kalyan Ram's scheme towards his daughter, actually dishes out advice on how to get chicks. Even he seems to draw from the same Puri manual, as his tips are equally farcical. But is this strenuous an effort really needed to woo a scatterbrain like the heroine? So there must be something bigger in Kalyan Ram's mind, and we are no geniuses for guessing it. And there comes the interval twist.
Ism takes too long to take off. The love track is utterly unengaging, stubbornly insensitive, and unfortunately occupies much of the first half. When a film is titled "Ism" and its promos promise an intense action thriller with a socially conscious tone, it really is suicide to chop off a complete hour from it and feed it to a crippled love routine devoid of any sense or entertainment.
And the film's central theme is no stroke of genius either. For a movie that boasts of being inspired by Snowden and Assange's stories, Ism is too far removed from practicality and plausibility. It talks about big ideas like black money and corruption, but can't help its juvenile understanding of its subject matter being laid bare. The enthusiasm it shows in lecturing its audiences should have been put to use in researching its subject matter and writing more plausible characters. The movie is just another Puri pot-boiler, masquerading as a responsible film.
Kalyan Ram embraces his slick debonair avatar, and moulds himself to fit the Puri hero template. Aditi Arya is helplessly stuck in a pathetically scripted caricature. She is written to annoy the hero, but ends up annoying the audiences, too. Anup Rubens' soundtrack acknowledges the eccentricity of the director, and that's not good news. The loud background score is as silly as the movie itself. A couple of songs however are easy on the ears. Jagapati Babu sleepwalks in a tailor-made role.
Vennela Kishore and Ali make awkward faces most of the time, and that seems apt as most of their jokes fall flat. There is a song in the second half where the heroine, aided by hijras, verbally bashes the hero in a crudely choreographed song. If that is the definition of entertainment for Puri, God save the audiences.
Ism is what happens when a director's version of creativity is a mere glorified display of his idiosyncrasies. It would be foolish-ism to catch this one.