Film review: Kaabil

If not for anything else, Kaabil will go down in movie history to feature the most number of puns on blindness. “Andhera kabhi andhere ko roshan nahi kar sakta hai”(Darkness can never light up darkness). “Pyaar mein andha hota hai, yeh too suna tha, lekin andhe ko pyaar hota hai, yeh pehli baar deke rahi hoon” (I had heard of being blinded by love, but blind people in love is something I’m seeing for the first time). Or “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. It would’ve been fine if a few such lines were used as a way of showing the light-heartedness of Rohan, the film’s protagonist, who is blind. But they keep coming from everywhere: both the villain and the cop say them. At one point, when Rohan says, “Sach boloon toh (to tell you the truth), it was love at first sight”, and the next moment, he is in a construction site with his girlfriend, I began to wonder if director Sanjay Gupta is playing a prank. But then Kaabil is too good-natured — a little too much — a movie to accommodate a self-deprecating joke. It also means that it is unsurprising enough for the audience to make such desperate attempts to be entertained. For a movie about a blind man avenging his wife’s death, that’s fatal.

Hrithik Roshan’s Rohan is a small time Hindi dubbing artiste for cartoons. He is blind but owing to his strong sense of sound and smell, so instinctual that when the neighbourhood kid needs his bicycle fixed, he reaches out to Rohan. He meets Supriya, who also blind and plays the piano for a living. They fall in love, get married and move in together. They live a simple life in a generic, lower middle class Mumbai colony that wears its secular credentials on its sleeves; both Rohan and one of the movie’s villains Amit (Rohit Roy), the local troublemaker and brother of powerful promoter Madhavrao Shellar (Ronit Roy), have muslim best-friend characters.

One of the reasons we don’t root for Rohan as much as we should have is because we don’t feel the struggle of a blind person. Right from the first frame— where he is frying eggs for breakfast and simultaneously attending calls — he is already extraordinary, another superhuman variation of the character he plays so often. There are some botched up opportunities, like the scene where Rohan and Supriya get separated in a crowd in a shopping mall. It could have been a demonstration of how, even though for a few minutes, a perfectly protected public place could turn hellish for a blind couple. The scene should have made us feel their vulnerabilities as well as the strength of their bonding. What we see is a rushed job to arrive at the logo of HRX, Roshan’s apparel brand, and one of the movie’s blatant product placements — a “recurring motif” in any production by the Roshans.

Gupta’s signature directorial touches are missing as well. It is visible only in the portions of the clashes between Mumbai’s criminal clans, the fights in shut movie theatres and empty construction sites and the airbrushed, high-contrast images of the city — the latter is a few notches down from his usual style. The result, sometimes, is glossed-up visuals that look closer to the version of the city in billboards of luxurious, new housing projects than anything else. Rajesh Roshan’s tunes — that sound like those fan-made tracks on YouTube that we sometimes mistakenly click into — stall the narrative.

Whatever we feel in Kaabil is because we see Roshan going through the range of emotions of his character; funny, considering, how the film would have benefited had it not served the star and given some of its energy to other characters and the screenplay (Sanjay Masoom, Vijay Kumar Mishra). Rohan’s helplessness in front of the cops is moving. And the scene before the interval at the police station, where he throws a challenge to an officer (Narendra Jha), is a cracker. The portions when Rohan, makes inventive use of his other talents instead of his muscles, to make mayhem, is fun at first but then loses steam. The actor is almost always described as earnest and sincere. Here he is also much more relaxed. There are no flaring nostrils and he says his lines with an ease missing from his last few performances. That he agreed to put on weight and focus less on his looks maybe a good sign. But it will be truly surprising when he is able to bring these qualities in a character without a superpower or the crutch of a disability

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