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Has the Bollywood Action Film Come of Age?



By the Cinema Cynic

Hindi cinema’s action genre has been of decidedly uneven quality over the decades. Farcical fight scenes, fake guns and outlandishly silly stunts existed alongside films of reasonable quality. However, the pure action Hindi film has been something of a poor imitation of its Western counterparts. That has now changed.

In December 2017, Tiger Zinda Hai, was (and I am a fan of neither Salman Khan nor Katrina Kaif) a remarkably well-done action film. Overwrought and slightly overacted, it nevertheless combined a decent story with incredibly good action scenes. Katrina Kaif, in particular, was most impressive in her major solo action sequence and Salman Khan was every bit the action hero with stunts, gunplay and corny dialogue to suit.

This was followed in 2018 by Tiger Shroff’s  Baaghi 2 which, once again, had action scenes every bit as good as those in the West. Admittedly, the song and dance routines in Baaghi-2 were preposterous in the extreme and the inexplicable penchant for slow-motion sequences reduces the visual impact of some of the action scenes but overall, Baaghi 2, which has now outperformed every Western action film shown in India (even with stars like the catatonic Vin Diesel), was fully the equal of its Western counterparts in this genre. Bad acting, flimsy plot and outlandish stunts – Bollywood Action has come of age! Tiger Shroff’s earlier Baaghi set the tone for a non-serious Bollywood action film and Baaghi 2 took it to the next level.

Bollywood has been improving its action genre for some time. Akshay Kumar’s Baby and Saif Ali Khan’s Phantom were two remarkably good movies – the former being better than the latter – and were noteworthy for excellent stories, good acting and superb action scenes, none of them being outlandish.

Alongside these were the considerably less polished efforts of Vidyut Jammwal in Commando and Commando 2. While the plots, acting and even the visual effects in these two films were unimpressive, Jammwal proved himself to be an accomplished and very talented action star.

Bollywood’s action genre needs to be encouraged and investments made in the necessary camera equipment needed to do justice to the action genre. The Rohit Shetty approach to action with its poor camera work and excessive use of slow motion footage has to stop. In terms of its actors, Bollywood is blessed with a least two genuinely talented action heroes – Tiger Shroff and Vidyut Jammwal. Both are skilled martial artists and the latter made some of the most complicated stunts look easy. Earlier talents such as Akshay Kumar, with his background in Taekwondo and Muay Thai, and Sunil Shetty with his background in kickboxing, emerged as mature and versatile actors and eschewed the pure action genre to a large extent. Maybe we can see improved acting on the part of both Tiger Shroff and Vidyut Jammwal.

However, as has been shown by the success of Baaghi 2, there is a market for the action genre in India and with the emergence of some exceptionally good young action heroes who can match kicks, flicks and spins with the best anywhere, one hopes that justice is done to the genre and we can look forward to more such films in the years to come.

P.S. Shekar Kapur’s comments on the 85th National Film Awards ring extremely true. India’s so-called regional cinema is of high quality and has produced some gems – both commercial (Baahubali 1&2) and parallel (Kaaka Muttai) over the years. Hindi cinema is being outstripped but dominates the media and the narrative on Indian cinema. This latter aspect has to end, and regional cinema has to become more accessible and widely disseminated. At present, to see many of these films, my DVD collection needs to expand.

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