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ROAR: Tigers of the Sundarbans
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by Jay Seaver

"The title's a bit of an undersell - there are gators and snakes, too."
3 stars

I ask this question half in jest, and half out of curiosity: Can you make the equivalent of an R-rated movie in India? If one can, then I'm not sure why "Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans" isn't one; this movie wants to be a bloody bit of man-versus-nature exploitation, but something keeps holding it back. I'm not sure what does short of an actual or effective prohibition on excessive blood and guts, because the pulpiest, most enjoyable moments indicate that it's not good taste.

Heck, when wildlife photographer Uday Singh (Pulkit) finds a white tiger cub tied up in the Subdarbans preserve and doesn't just free it but brings it back to the nearest village, his guide Madhu (Pranay Dixit) says, in so many words, that this will be disastrous. And it is, as the cub's mother comes seeking her child. That leaves Uday's brother Pandit (Abhinav Shukla) looking for revenge, bringing five of his army buddies in to help hunt the tigress down, with Madhu and local guide Jhumpa (Himarsha) helping them navigate the salt-water canals and dangerous animals of the Sundarbans region.

That's two boats' worth of cast to get whittled down, and considering the circumstances, director Kamal Sadanah and his co-writers seem to take their sweet time getting around to it. What circumstances are those? Well, first, there is that few of the people in the cast are as memorable as Cheena (Virendra Singh Ghuman), a hulking beast of a man who stretches his camo to the breaking point, Crazy Jenny (Nora Fatehi), aka "CJ", who gets the best action scene despite a costume that really doesn't seem combat-ready, or Jhumpa, who somehow makes her bare midriff look more practical than CJ's. She also reminds us of the other thing that might make the audience impatient: Despite understanding Pandit's anger, who among us is really going to root for these guys to kill a mama tigress, not to mention a beautiful one-in-a-thousand variation of a species that is already endangered? I suspect most of us will be rooting for the big cat on a certain level.

And yet, it's a party of eight for some time, and when Sadanah finally does get around to making these guys pay for entering this dangerous territory, a lot of the potentially nasty stuff happens off-screen, with the evidence afterward being a bit of red on a tigress's face or a body that has been so thoroughly destroyed that it doesn't necessarily register as having once been a human being. Many horror movies are effective because they give the audience the chance to fill in the worst thing they can imagine, but Sadanah shoots this like the sort where the audience sees mangled bodies without delivering. From the making-of bits in the end, he and the other filmmakers seem a bit constrained in what they can achieve - they don't have the budget for a CGI tiger that they can make do anything throughout - but nevertheless, the viewer is often going to feel cheated.

The pity of it is that when the filmmakers get a chance to let the crazy bits shine through, it's not hard to imagine a fully-committed bit of pulp fiction and be entertained looking at how far they got. There's a sequence that involves an island full of mating snakes that is genuinely creepy, for instance, and bits involving primitive local tribes with their strange rituals that would probably feel kind of racist in a Hollywood movie but play as fun throwbacks here. As mentioned, Nora Fatehi (and/or her double) gets to have a heck of a fight scene, while the highly-pumped Ghuman gets a moment that is at the very least awesome in its absurdity. There are creepy mists, skeletons, shipwrecks, and all the pulp goodies; everywhere Sadanah and company can push the movie to its logical extreme, they do, and it is generally worth a grin. Sadanah and cinematographer Michael Watson are able to shoot some good-looking scenery, even if they don't always make the most of it.

That doesn't make Roar a great movie done in by the need to pass a ratings board; it's still kind of bloated, stretching a plot that ideally takes about eighty-five minutes to just over two hours, and still jumping around despite that: It switches adversaries from a determined park ranger (Achint Kaur) to an excessively-duplicitous poacher (Subrat Dutta) because it can't make one work for the whole movie, and stumbles around the end. Lead Abhinav Shukla is mostly just blandly handsome, which applies to most of the crew and kind of makes one appreciate Nora Fatehi a little more in that she's not necessarily a very good actress, but she's clearly all in.

"Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans" is flawed as heck, even beyond not being able to get truly gory, and yet it's still a lot of fun in spite of that. Sometimes this sort of basic man-versus-animal action hits the spot, and few shoot in as nice a setting or have the sort of earnest balance of ridiculous and straight-faced that this one does.

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originally posted: 11/08/14 16:34:00
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  31-Oct-2014 (15)


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