Liger movie review: Juvenile, primitive, woman-hating, quality-averse dude fest

Liger overflows with the signature tackiness of Puri Jagannadh’s films and the misogyny that Vijay Deverakonda has proudly worn on his sleeve since he struck box-office gold with Arjun Reddy

Anna MM Vetticad August 26, 2022 14:02:36 IST


(Kindly note that our graphics cannot accommodate a 0 star rating. The rating given to this film by our critic is 0 out of 5 stars.)

I don’t know about these days, but back when I was in school, a bunch of kiddish “what is the height of…?” riddles were all the rage. I remember being asked by classmates through a storm of giggles, “What is the height of stupidity?” Answer: a person peering through the peephole of a glass door. “What is the height of optimism?” Answer: an ant climbing Mount Everest. Hey girls, I’ve got a new one for you: What is the height of optimism? Answer: a film critic watching Liger directed by Telugu veteran Puri Jagannadh, starring Vijay Deverakonda, and expecting anything other than the juvenile, primitive, woman-hating dude fest that it turns out to be.

Liger: Saala Crossbreed has been publicised as Deverakonda’s Bollywood debut and Ananya Panday’s Telugu debut since it was shot simultaneously in Hindi and Telugu. I watched the Hindi version and it is clear from the lip sync mismatch in places that not every actor did their lines in both languages. This is the least of the film’s problems though.

Deverakonda stars as the titular hero, named thus – his Mummy Balamani (Ramya Krishnan) informs us – because he is a cross between a lion and a tiger. Precis: he’s a fierce fellow with formidable physical strength. Waah, kya brilliance hai, Mummy. Irshaad.

Our chap is a mixed martial arts (MMA) practitioner whose driving force is anger over his father’s death. Dad was an MMA champion. It is never fully explained why his end should fuel a fire in the beta, or maybe I missed that in the din because Lion+Tiger’s Mummy roars more than speaks, but well, nothing much makes sense in this screaming gala so … whatever!

Now Mummy approaches a coach (Ronit Roy) and asks him to train Lion+Tiger=Liger to be a champ like Daddy. Apparently, she has been sweating it out selling chai all her life to bring up beta and arrive at this precise moment where she could drag him to a coach and inspire the man to accept a new protégé. Lion+Tiger is already a skilled fighter as we have learnt from a scene in which he bashes up bad people single-handedly near Mummy’s chai ki ttheli, but Mummy wants said coach to take him to the next level.

This brings up another point that is never explained: Mummy says she does not have the money to pay Coach Sir, she actually demands that he enrol Lion+Tiger=Liger in his academy, so you have to wonder why she waited so long to do this since Lion+Tiger looks very much the 30-something year old man that Deverakonda is. Note to self: stop trying to find logic here.

Liger movie review Juvenile primitive womanhating qualityaverse dude fest

Another thing you must know about Liger is that the leading man stammers, and this is the axis around which the film’s comedy rotates. Not that one can expect anything better from such an unapologetically crude screenplay, but Liger’s speech disability is worth mentioning due to the duality in this film that purports to be critical of those mocking him yet constructs most of its jokes around his struggle to speak.

It’s hard to decide what is worse: Liger’s cruel “haklana” (stammer) quips or its hate for women. Ms  Panday plays Taniya, a rich girl whose ambition is to be a social media influencer. The hero describes her as a “khilauna” (toy) by way of an introduction. It goes further downhill, since a woman in Liger’s worldview is nothing but a distraction, an Apsara designed to cause men to lose their “focus” (the coach’s choice of words), a “chudail” (witch, so says Mummy) who dresses up and plays innocent to trap unsuspecting men into losing sight of their goals.

You think that’s bad? Oh then, sample what comes later – and I don’t even apologise for the spoilers in this paragraph. When Taniya rejects Lion+Tiger=Liger upon learning that he stammers, Mummy exhorts him to grab what is his by right, and so he goes chasing the woman he ‘loves’ with a stick in hand to wallop her into submission.

In another scene, the big hahaha is that in the middle of a clash with a woman martial artiste, Lion+Tiger grabs her breasts by mistake. You know from the tone of the narrative and his facial expression that this is meant to be funny.

To be fair – don’t ask why I am being fair to this terrible film – everyone is violent with pretty much everyone in Liger, and I’m not just referring to the MMAers who keep picking on each other. Balamani repeatedly hits her son, and the coach beats his students with a cane.

Liger movie review Juvenile primitive womanhating qualityaverse dude fest

The irony is that Taniya makes a Kabir Singh reference in a conversation while chiding Liger for being like all men – incapable of handling rejection. The film obviously does not think that’s a bad thing though, considering that it’s an out-and-out celebration of his fury aimed at her and … erm … how should I say this? … his crotch. I kid you not. He thrusts his crotch at Taniya during a dance. In an MMA ring, he lies down on the ground and challenges his rival by pointing to his own crotch. And in a fight with a posse of women foreigners, he yells in fear when he thinks an opponent doing a leg split is about to crash her foot into that area because, as he tells her, no one will marry him (if she strikes there).

It is appropriate then that one of the moves assigned to Liger is an ape-like chest thump that comes up in a song ‘n’ dance routine and later, during an MMA match. Appropriate because this character and this film do not belong with Homo sapiens.

And oh, the noise! My ears. Please save my ears. Liger’s sound and music are loud, but the most unrelenting auditory assault comes from Ramya who over-acts till kingdom come in this film, speaks at a permanently high volume and keeps her eyes perennially widened to an even larger circumference than Sunny Deol ever achieved when he inflated his nostrils in Gadar.

The tragedy is that Ramya can be a fine actor on a good day in a good film. In Liger, however, she is no better than the bad extras who play Taniya’s girlie gang.

Liger even throws some patriotism and a mention of Pakistan into the mix, in a transparent – but weak – attempt to jump on to Bollywood’s post-2014 deshbhakti bandwagon.

Liger overflows with the signature tackiness, immaturity and misogyny associated with Puri Jagannadh; misogyny that defines Vijay Deverakonda too since he has proudly worn it on his sleeve after striking gold with Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Arjun Reddy (2017 / Telugu). More’s the pity because when you sift out the chaff, you can see that he has a screen presence and acting chops and is, in fact, the only element in Liger that’s even marginally worth watching.

Panday, for her part, is yet to establish herself in Bollywood, but gave evidence recently in Gehraiyaan that she is capable of depth if she tries. Here in Liger though, she appears to revel in the superficiality of the writing and the script’s animosity towards women, which is particularly hypocritical if you recall that in a recent Koffee With Karan interview she spoke of the troubling potential influence that Arjun Reddy’s gender politics can have on the public.

In the run-up to Liger’s release, there has been some talk on north Indian social media about how the COVID-time pan-India box-office success of crass, misogynistic southern Indian fare such as Pushpa: The Rise (Telugu) and KGF: Chapter 2 (Kannada) is a certain audience’s way of asking Bollywood to regress in its treatment of women. While it is indeed true that Telugu and Kannada commercial films are dominated by marginalisation and in-your-face contempt for women, and that Hindi cinema, despite its male dominance, offers far more space for realistic representations of women than these two Indian film industries, let’s not get on our high horse and pretend that the Hindi film industry is a paradise in this matter.

If Liger feels like the scum churned out by Bollywood in the 1970s and ’80s, that’s because Hindi cinema has become more sophisticated in conveying its degenerative attitudes since then, whether with the glorification of patriarchy in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), upholding a conservative notion of femininity in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), or recently, romanticising the male lead’s violence in Kabir Singh (2019), Arjun Reddy’s Hindi remake. In fact, one of Liger’s producers is the Bollywood stalwart Karan Johar who debuted as a director with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The godawful Masti series (2004-16) is a Bollywood product. Akshay Kumar’s filmography even in the past two decades has been packed with films that trivialise women and position sexual harassment as courtship. And never forget that Prabhu Deva’s Wanted (2009) – the Hindi remake of this very Puri Jagannadh’s Pokiri – is what kicked off a new innings for Salman Khan in which he found himself embraced by educated women and what the trade describes as “class audiences”.

Many of these Hindi films are variations of Liger, some of them just have better packaging and lower decibels. Liger is an all-round attack on the senses, with its abysmal quality peaking in a passage featuring the global boxing icon Mike Tyson. This film does not have a single original or sensible bone in its body. I cringed through every second of it.

Rating: 0 (out of 5 stars) 

This review was published in August 2022 when Liger came to theatres. The film’s Telugu version dropped on Disney+Hotstar in September. The Hindi version too is now on the same streaming platform. 

Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial

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