Let off some steam, Amrit.
Available on Einthusan.tv. Approximately 125 minutes.
The movie starts out breezing through thirty-two minutes of possible storyline in thirty-two seconds worth of dialogue. Colonel Sinha has just been informed that one of his helicopters has crashed into the river separating India from China and the pilot, Karanveer Singh Dogra, has washed up on the Chinese side. With the helicopter nowhere in sight, the Chinese have captured Karan and are treating him like a spy. Seriously, this is thirty-two seconds of dialogue that another Indian movie could have stretched out to thirty-two minutes. This movie is only slightly longer than two hours, so it was not a matter of time. This choice to race through this plot confused me until later on.
There is no hard evidence that this was a training accident, but Colonel Sinha offers to provide the Chinese with records of the training exercise in hopes that they will release Karan. He tells India’s Defense Minister that Karan is a Commando, and goes on to explain in ridiculously hyperbolic terms, how an Indian Commando is worth ten thousand regular soldiers. The Defense Minister is unconvinced. He maintains that the Chinese hope to use the capture of this supposed spy as a means to humiliate India and gain political leverage; the Indian government cannot risk its reputation on some documents that the Chinese will most likely dismiss as forgeries. The Defense Minister’s stance is that it is better to simply deny Karan’s role in the military. Erase his records. Karan does not exist. Surely that will ensure peace between the two nations for ever and ever, right? Right?
Karan spends a year being interrogated and tortured in a Chinese prison before it is decided that he be tried for espionage. During his transfer from the prison to wherever, Karan overpowers the three Chinese soldiers and manages to escape from the jeep as it overturns. He promptly runs into the forest and somehow makes it back to India. This is the first ten minutes of the movie, by the way.
The movie then shifts at least a hundred miles away to the town of Dilerkot. Or it is a province. Honestly, I am not sure, since the place is fictional, as far as I can tell. In any case, the Singh brothers rule the place with an iron fist. Amrit Kanwal (AK-74) Singh runs a criminal enterprise and uses his brother’s status as a Minister of Parliament (MP) to solidify his little fiefdom. While the nation is celebrating Diwali, the Singhs and a few of their henchmen head over to the Kaur family, who have been the lone group of holdouts with any influence.
Amrit offers peace between the two families if Simrit Kaur will be his wife; Amrit and Simrit. Her parents seem to reluctantly mull over the decision, but Simrit refuses to give into AK’s “romantic” gestures or his threats.
Simrit runs away the next day, hoping to catch a bus to Shimla, outside of Dilerkot’s borders. Unfortunately, MP and over a dozen of his henchmen catch up to her at the bus station.
Unfortunately for them, they also run into Karan, who planned on taking a bus to Pathankot, where there is a military base. Karan cares neither for Simrit nor the men chasing after her, but he gets a little irritated when he finds out that the men have political connections. No, they had nothing to do with his capture or his spending a year getting tortured, but he is an angry man and these thugs have just given him an excuse to get violent. Karan ends up taking on MP’s men, beating them up barehanded and then getting a little stabby when he snatches one of their knives.
MP manages to get away with a handful of henchmen and Karan tries to catch a bus. Simrit is furious. She had hoped to beg and plead with MP to let her on the bus, but now she fears that AK will send two hundred men to find her. She demands that Karan serve as her bodyguard until they cross the border, which basically means sitting together on a bus. Simrit claims that the bus goes to both of their locations.
The bus crosses the border and Simrit is joyous, apologizing for her behavior at the bus station. This does not last very long, as AK and about twenty of his goons (yeah, not quite two hundred) have managed to get ahead of the bus and set up blockade on a bridge, preventing the bus and a few other cars from crossing.
Karan fights with a few of the goons before taking Simrit and jumping off of the bridge into the river.
They wash up in China. Just kidding. They get to the shore and start making their way through the forest in an attempt to make it out of AK’s territory. AK is not giving up that easily, though, and sends his goons into the woods to track them down.
As you might be able to tell by now, this is not a remake of the 1985 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither is it a remake of the 1988 Indian movie. Or maybe it is; I watched only 30 minutes of that movie before stopping. In any case, this movie is its own thing.
I am not going to sit here and pretend that this is a quality movie. You could pick it apart with simple questions like why the Chinese did not have Kara properly restrained why transporting him or why the super-strong Karan did not carry Simrit on his back whenever they had to go fast or she got tired. I will say, though that the movie is quite entertaining. It really has three things going for it. The first is the fighting. Now, I don’t suppose that most people go into Bollywood action movies expecting a good action movie; they expect ridiculously bonkers creativity in its setpieces that papers over how bad Bollywood is at action movies. Now, sure, Bollywood can have some goofy fight choreography, but what sets this apart from most is that the protagonist was played by relative newcomer Vidyt Jammwal, who was a stunt performer trained in martial arts. So the fight scenes could actually play to his strengths instead of hide his weaknesses.
While I am not a martial arts flick aficionado, the fight scenes in this movie seem quite legitimate in my opinion. Perhaps one more versed in the genre can point out where it fails with all of the edits and whatever, but I was sold on it. Even the final fight set piece, while a little bit of a letdown in terms of quantity, made sense within the story and was impressive as its own thing.
The other thing that this movie has going for it is Pooja Chopra as Simrit. No, I would not go so far as to say that Chopra was a revelation. I personally feel, however, like she did a really effective job at making what could have been an annoying character and make her fun. Yeah, fine, YOU may find her annoying, but not me. She is engaging when she is scared or angry, and she is utterly adorable when she is anything else. She allows Simrit to bring out the fun side in the otherwise stoic Karan and it is rather a joy to watch.
The third thing is something that I did not really appreciate until watching the sequels: AK as the main villain. He is a sleaze-ball who loves to use his cell phone to play games and find terrible jokes to tell his minions. It is so unnecessarily stupid a characterization that it turns back around to being amusing. AK also…has white eyes. I am not sure what that was about, but I guess that that was supposed to be some sort of physical defect that denoted his moral depravity. Not a great message for the movie to convey, no.
The storyline with China, which I had genuinely believed would have taken up the entire movie, is left on the backburner for a lot of the movie. I was a bit unsure why until I realized what the movie was really about. Karan may have been angry at the Chinese for torturing him for something that was simply an accident, but he was furious at the Indian government for selling him out. AK and MP may be the big baddies in the movie, but to Karan, they are just a couple of thugs amongst many evil politicians who are destroying the country from the inside. How can a country expect to stand up to external enemies when it has parasites such as these in charge? Without spoiling the movie too much, I will say that the ending of the movie takes this political statement to a level that comes across to me as probably a little darker and somewhat more disturbing than the filmmakers had intended it to be. But I accepted it, and it certainly did not bring down this fun little movie for me.
There are two sequels to this movie, Commando 2 – Black Money, and Commando 3. They both continue having good action sequences. However, I think that the charm of the first movie is somewhat lost. The need for sequels to go bigger means that the stakes are higher, and effect India as a whole directly instead of metaphorically. AK and MP are terrible people, but they are rather small time, and have their own quirky charm that is missing in the sequels. The sequels try to match the tone, but it does not really work for me. I hear that there is a fourth one planned. Maybe I will check it out. Watch the sequels if you wish, but the first one is the best in my opinion.
And that’s it. This is a fun legitimate action movie from India. Check it out.
WTF ASIA 146: Manila in the Claws of Light (The Philippines: 1975, approx. 127 minutes)
WTF ASIA 147: For Love’s Sake (Japan: 2012, approx. 134 minutes)