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Ek Villain
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by Jay Seaver

"This 'Villain' is no 'Devil'."
3 stars

Given that uncredited Indian remakes of movies from other countries aren't exactly uncommon, it's not totally unfair that I went into "Ek Villain" with "I Saw the Devil" in the back of my head; you don't have to squint that much to see Kim Jee-woon's terrific serial killer movie in this one's plot description. In the quite likely event that there is inspiration there, director Mohit Suri and writer Tushar Hiranandani have lost something in translation but they've still made a decent thriller.

Aisha (Shraddha Kapoor) is cute, sweet, and funny; she's obviously doomed, and the worst happens while her husband Guru (Sidharth Malhotra) is at a job interview for a security position. As CBI agent Aditya Rathore (Shaad Randhawa) points out, the police had better find the killer fast, because two years ago, Guru was the main enforcer for Goa's top gangster (Remo Fernandes). Rathore tries to point Guru in this Caesar's direction, since at that point nobody knows about mild-mannered telephone repairman Rakesh Mahadkar (Riteish Deshmukh).

Ek Villain starts at what could be the start of a great cat-and-mouse game, but it spends a lot of the pre-interval half flashing back to how Guru and Aisha met in Goa, Guru's dark past, and Rakesh's nasty tendencies. It's not the little bit of everything you'd see in a masala film - the songs are something that plays in the background rather than something characters sing themselves (aside from the item number), for instance - but the filmmakers make the romance between Guru and Aisha more affecting than might be expected in that it would work well enough in a lightweight drama without the audience knowing how it's going to end. There's a lot of fairly clumsy manipulation going on, especially in how Aisha's situation apparently can't be tragic enough for the filmmakers. Also, even for a movie about a serial killer who preys on women, the ladies in this movie have it pretty rough - Suri, HIranandani, and dialog-writer Milap Zaveri seem to go a bit out of their way to make both Rakesh's victims and his wife (Aamna Sharif) sort of unpleasant - Aisha is the exception, but she's often almost a childish innocent rather than an independent woman - and a bit of casual domestic abuse that goes uncomfortably unanswered in a movie that is all about both slights and crimes being answered in grand, violent fashion.

But while the attempts at romance often top out at broad but inoffensive, the film does actually hum along all right as a thriller. By the end, there are probably too many different players with well-compromised morality running around in a movie that is pointedly quoting Martin Luther King Jr. early and often, but it makes the noose tighten in a surprisingly satisfactory way as often as it makes things overcomplicated. The film also does an unusually good job doubling back toward the end, and the action is actually not bad at all. There's a bit of a mean streak, but also a couple of scenes where Suri and his action director should be credited for staging things really well. There's a sequence on a boat where it slowly dawned on me that there hadn't been a cut for a while, and while Sidharth Malhotra may not exactly be Donnie Yen, that's still an impressive thing to pull off in one long, traveling shot.

Malhotra may not be a great screen fighter, but he's adequate, and a bit better than that in the rest of the movie. He plays Guru well whether he's tamed, enraged, or uncertain, and it's not always easy to show the romantic lead as capable of being a monster. Riteish Deshmukh has a bit of a harder time of it as Rakesh, not really seeming to fully tap into his character's rage until the end, which hurts a bit when he's often sharing scenes with Kamaal R. Khan, who is much more casually monstrous as Rakesh's best friend even though his actions seldom go as far. Deshmukh generally gets by, though. And while Shraddha Kapoor's portrayal of Aisha (and the lines Zaveri gives her to read) can seem kind of broad and silly, it works well enough to give the film the contrast it needs.

I must admit, there are things about the tone and set up of this movie that I don't quite grasp. I get the idea that the filmmakers are trying to say something about religion and spirituality at certain points, but they mix Christian and Hindu iconography somewhat haphazardly, with enough appearances of the god Ganesh in the imagery that I made sure to bone up on him a little afterward, though it didn't particularly help. It's a frequently nice-looking movie with a pretty good soundtrack courtesy of Ankit Tiwari, Mithoon, and the band Soch, though the songs on that soundtrack are given a bit too much time. It drags a bit at times, though, because even though it isn't overly long at 129 minutes - actually 12 minutes shorter than I Saw the Devil - it only occasionally commits to the intensity that its gruesome subject matter demands.

And with all due apologies to Ganesh, "I Saw the Devil" is the elephant in the room here - it is a downright great execution of a very similar story that zeroes in on its heart of darkness early on and doesn't brook any romantic comedy distractions. Suri has a bit of a reputation for "adapting" films without crediting the originals (including Korean films "The Chaser" and Kim Ji-woon's "A Bittersweet Life"), and while acknowledging the movie being remade would make "Ek Villain" less ethically questionable, it would still be a watered-down version of an excellent thriller. There's still enough left to make it a decent couple hours that's maybe more palatable for an audience that likes their films less brutal, but why go for okay when you can have great?

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originally posted: 06/29/14 13:27:08
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  27-Jun-2014 (15)


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