If you call a film Rocky Handsome, you had better deliver what the title promises: action that would do Sly Stallone proud plus a handsome man.
Rocky Handsome does not fall short on those fronts.
They say 1 Helen is the amount of beauty required to launch a thousand ships. The reference, of course, is to the legendary looks of Helen of Troy from Greek mythology – she who possessed “the face that launched a thousand ships”. What do the Greeks know of such things?
From this day forth, let it be said that the universal unit of beauty comes from India: 1 John is the quantum of gorgeousness it takes to send a woman into such a stupor that for 24 hours she cannot gather her thoughts coherently to write a review.
In a world that chooses to unrelentingly objectify women, usually in a degrading fashion, this film is a lesson in how different the treatment is when men are the ones being objectified. We are given shot after shot of John Abraham’s naked torso, the camera captures his bare chest, back and voluminous arms from various angles, yet at no point does it cheapen him or play a song in the background that is remotely the equivalent of “Main tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkaale saiyyaan alcohol se” (I’m a piece of flesh, consume me with alcohol) that Bollywood has unabashedly slapped on to female stars and unknowns over the years.
This is not a struggler hoping to get a foot in the door by making his body his USP or an established actor fighting for survival. This is a successful star and male producer (John has produced Rocky Handsome) in a male-dominated industry, holding the reins and all the cards in his hands and choosing, from a position of power, exactly how he wishes to be portrayed by a film.
Viewers are given the full blast of John’s exquisite physique and his wonderfully weatherbeaten-yet-not-apparently-Botoxed countenance throughout Rocky Handsome. There is more to the film than his sexiness though.
The action sequences dominating the narrative are completely breathtaking. Be warned: they are extremely gory. If you are not faint hearted and have a streak of masochism in you, the choreography of the fights is something to behold. Most are executed by John’s character. To watch him slaughter his enemies is to witness the grace of a ballerina combined with the energy of a troupe of Kathak dancers slapping their bare feet incessantly on the floor of a stage. He slices and dices humans with his bare hands, fists, legs, arms, knives and firearms, sometimes in slow motion and sometimes at a speed that could rival Superman.
Rocky Handsome also features a couple of neat club songs that are foot-tapping fun even if they – like the entire soundtrack – are too loud in the film. The bonus is that two talented artistes dance to them on screen: Nathalia Kaur for 'Titliyan' (composed by Sunny and Inder Bawra), and Nora Fatehi for 'Rock tha party' (the old Bombay Rockers’ number resurrected).
With so many elements hitting the bull’s eye separately, the team appears to make no effort whatsoever to stitch them together into a cohesive, emotionally resonant whole. Great-looking cast: check. Action: check. Music: check. Soul: ah now, therein lies a problem.
Rocky Handsome is an official remake of the South Korean film The Man From Nowhere adapted for Hindi audiences by writer Ritesh Shah. The story here is set in Goa. It revolves around a reclusive pawn shop owner, Kabir Ahlawat (John), who becomes fond of his neighbour’s neglected child Naomi (Diya Chalwad). The kid’s mother Anna (Nathalia Kaur) is a junkie who sparks off mayhem by stealing drugs from a gangster. Kabir goes berserk when the only person in the world he seems to care about is abducted. The destruction he leaves in his wake attracts police attention, which is how his tragic past is revealed.
Director Nishikant Kamat helmed last year’s Hindi version of Drishyam starring Ajay Devgn and that celluloid gemstone, Mumbai Meri Jaan, about the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings. He debuted with the acclaimed Marathi film Dombivali Fast in 2005. Clearly he took a vacation from his cinematic vision for Rocky Handsome, which is high on style and visual gratification, but low on substance and passion.
Nishikant had earlier directed Force – a far better film – with John in 2011. Here he cannot see beyond his leading man’s physical appearance and penchant for fisticuffs. John too appears so confident about the appeal of those elements in the film that he does not even try to act. Except for one scene in which he weeps for a woman he loves, he wears the same two facial expressions from start to finish.
The child actor Diya is not bad in the cuteness department, but is burdened by the heavy-handed dialogues she is expected to deliver. The zero chemistry between John and the actresses playing the women in his life – Shruti Haasan in a cameo and Diya – is what keeps the film cold.
The director has cast himself as a drug mafia boss called Kevin with limited effect (he has done better before). In the role of his brother is an actor desperately trying to blend menace with eccentricity and falling flat in the attempt. For a reference point he should have checked out Prashant Narayanan’s brilliant turn as a serial killer in Mohit Suri’s Murder 2 (2011), yet another Hindi remake of a Korean film – that one was illegimately copied, but very well done.
If you plan to watch Rocky Handsome then, you have two options: you could feast your eyes on John and his feats, or make the mistake of seeking depth and feelings within that pageantry. Choose Option 1 and you are pretty much assured of paisa vasool.
I know, I know, that’s a terribly superficial thing to say. This critic is guilty as charged.