Sooryavanshi movie review: Akshay Kumar, Rohit Shetty's competent action film delivers as much masala as it promised
Sooryavanshi doubles and triples down on its Hindu-Muslim unity message every instance it gets. It is not always done with nuance or understanding of complex religious dynamics, but the intentions are clear. This is a filmmaker reacting to the times he is living in.
castAkshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Jaaved Jaaferi, Kumud Mishra, Jackie Shroff, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh
This does not happen very often with big masala Hindi movies, so let me start off by saying that Sooryavanshi, the film, is better than its trailer. That may not be saying much, considering the overlong four-plus minute trailer was a bloated mess. So let me go one step further: While I did find myself wishing for better execution of its set pieces, Sooryavanshi is still possibly the most best action film by Rohit Shetty yet, despite its many contrivances and general cop film déjà vu.
One reason for this is that the film is surprisingly laser-focused (by Rohit Shetty standards) on its plot. Yes, it has an actual plot, the threads of which are laid through the 1993 blasts in Bombay. S Hussain Zaidi helped with the research on this film, so it has the whole Mumbai terror shebang down pat — PoK, Lashkar, countrywide sleeper cells, local dons and their strongholds, the works. One tonne of RDX was smuggled into India back then, but only 400 kilos were used in ‘93, we are told. Unsavoury forces from across the border still envision India’s doom. The time to activate the sleeper cells is now, so Mumbai needs a watchful guardian, a protector, a dark-glass wearing knight.
Luckily, Veer Sooryavanshi, who lost his parents during the ‘93 blasts, is now with the Anti-Terrorism Squad, and he is on the case. Veer has a strained relationship with his wife Aditi (a radiant Katrina Kaif) because he once severely endangered their son while on a mission. This is the only other subplot this film chases, mercifully for not too long. Now how and what happens may not exactly be revolutionary, but the film’s perpetual motion and big climactic cameos make it a breeze.
Akshay Kumar reminds us that the new age leading men of today, nepotism or not, are nowhere close to him with either action or comedy. Even the film’s silliest recurring gag, Veer's habit of getting the names of people wrong, does not get old even though it is frequently repeated for no real reason. It is all Akshay and his timing.
With regards to its action, the problem with this film is there is nothing new for the ardent Bollywood action fan. It is all kinetic camera, rapid cheat cuts, no real establishment or continuity — staple features of the average Hindi big-banger, really. If you have watched any of The Family Man’s long-take action sequences, for instance, then nothing about Sooryavanshi’s action will wow you. I am not saying one-take action sequences are the only way to go, but even this film’s best fight scenes come right in the end, when Shetty throws in some not-too-long one-take action himself. It just reminds you that action works best when, cuts or not, the filmmakers establish space, geography, and continuous action to fully immerse the viewer.
But perhaps the film’s most intriguing quality is its message. Yes, this Rohit Shetty film actually has a message, one that he keeps returning to at multiple points in the film.
This is not like the generic but cloying anti-rape moral of Simmba or the magic-not-logic middle finger to us all that was his last Golmaal film. No, this one has a communal harmony agenda going, which Shetty keeps reinforcing throughout.
If you thought the ‘ye hai Hindustani Musalman’ bit from the trailer was yet another mawkish token good Muslim scene, well, you would be right. But the thing is that isn’t an isolated scene in the film. Honestly, I was surprised at just how often Sooryavanshi plays up the age-old Hindu-Muslim brotherhood angle that Hindi movies have often showcased in the past. The film doubles and triples down on this message every instance it gets. It is not always done with nuance or understanding of complex religious dynamics, but the intentions are clear. This is a filmmaker reacting to the times he is living in.
You could find a problem with the blatant way he has gone about delivering his peacenik message. You could even object to, for instance, the throwaway assertion that the abrogation of ‘Section 370’ has completely eliminated cross-border militant infiltration. Indeed, I expect Shetty to be fully pounded by people on both sides of the ideological divide for his attempt with Sooryavanshi.
Then again, I suspect this is what our tentpole Diwali releases might look like going forward. Back in the day, it was about big entertainers that families of all shades and stripes could watch and enjoy together. Today, a wholesome festive entertainer is when Left and Right both have points to outrage about and cancel a film over. Keeping all of that aside, Sooryavanshi is a competent action film that sticks to lane, and delivers at least as much over-the-top entertainment as it promises.
Sooryavanshi is available in cinemas.
Pradeep Menon is a Mumbai-based writer and independent filmmaker.
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