Sunday, May 22, 2022

Dhaakad: a Hindi La Femme Nikita

Every few years, Hollywood gets proud of itself for releasing a woman-driven action movie like Atomic Blonde, pretending they just invented something revolutionary. Of course, it is nothing new or original to those of us who have been digging Michelle Yeoh and Angela Mao films for years. With this action heroine, maybe we can give Bollywood a few points for originality, but they still have to get the job done. Agent Agni always completes her mission, but the ride is a little rough in Razneesh Ghai’s Dhaakad, which is now playing in New York.

As a young girl, Agni’s parents were mysteriously assassinated, so she was adopted by her future handler in the super-secret, off-the-books Indian intelligence agency she now serves. Agni has been hot on the trail of a human trafficking ring led by Rudraveer, who rose up from the coal fields of Bhopal through a maybe not-so weird combination of class-warfare trade unionism, a cult of personality, and brute force. He also had the brains of Rohini, a madam turned master money-launderer.

Just when Agni though she had them cornered, her operation turns to coal dust (that’s a frequent metaphor in the film). As a result, she starts to suspect there is probably a mole informing Rudraveer. Yet, despite of her standoffish nature, Agni starts trusting her nebbish local contact, Fazal, and his wide-eyed little daughter Zaira. Of course, that gives Rudraveer a weakness to exploit.

The fight choreography in
Dhaakad is often spectacular and frequently surprisingly brutal. In fact, it is almost shocking how hard-edged the film is, even by American standards (and especially for Bollywood). On top of that, Agni’s wardrobe is some of Indian cinema’s most fetish-satisfying leatherware, since Sunny Leone made her Bollywood debut.

Be that as it may, Kangana Ranaut clearly trained like a demon to play Agni. Even though she must have had lots of help from stunt performers, it is still a gruelingly physical performance. Arjun Rampal is also huge on the screen and massively sinister as Rudraveer. In terms of size, he seems to hulk up somewhere between Godzilla and Salman Khan. However, Saswata Chatterjee is just too sleazy-acting for figure like the handler.

It is often eye-opening to watch Indian cinema. For instance, any Hollywood film in which the protag runs a joint-operation with a Russian FSB agent would likely get a heavy re-edit before releasing after Putin launched his war with Ukraine. Yet, that is exactly how
Dhaakad opens. India has long enjoyed a special relationship with Russia, which is still reflected in Dhaakad (and could hurt the film’s international word-of-mouth).

Still, there are some big over-the-top actions scenes and the required musical interludes, which in this case, would have impressed the early-1990’s sexed-up Madonna. The story is all too predictable, but Ranaut and Rampal are awfully impressive storming and raging against each other. It is a bit harsh for casual viewers, but
Dhaakad is recommended for serious action connoisseurs. Currently, it is playing in New York, at the AMC Empire.