Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Attacks of 26/11 (2013)

I have seen only one Ram Gopal Verma film in my life: Rangeela. I never got around to watch his critically-acclaimed crime dramas, his spate of horror films or even the universally hated recent misadventures. I do not understand the praise or the criticism he has received. Oh boy. I do now. The criticism. 

The film opens with a Joint Commissioner of Police, accused of mishandling the fightback and botching up the subsequent investigation, deposing before a committee set up to uncover discrepancies. There are numerous ways to make a film around this historical event. Ramu could have made a film from one family's point of view; or about a slew of strangers caught in different parts of the city, struggling to stay alive. Instead, he chooses to make the all encompassing version which starts in the Arabian Sea and goes about,  procedurally, creating mayhem in all the places we now associate with the terror attacks. There's nothing wrong with Ramu's choice, per se, but the way he makes his movie. Leaving us with no one to relate to or root for, he insensitively turns most of his characters into mere props- bag of flesh and blood just waiting to take a bullet and spill their guts out. By taking this route, it never quite finds its unique voice. 

The film claims this particular terror attack was far more shocking than 9/11 because of its "sheer audacity". I don't think I agree. I believed there was a massive intelligence failure and a major botch up by the city's Police, fueled by intrusive media coverage. The film's job was to convince me to believe otherwise; to consider the Joint Commissioner's account and reassess my views. It has clearly failed miserably. In its attempt to give some sort of catharsis, the film colors the cop clean while only coming across as a movie about one man saving his ass by telling us what we already knew. No one asks him any hard questions. The 'committee' is basically a bunch of suited extras, who have vowed to never open their mouth, giving reaction shots. 

I expected the film to put the lone captured terrorist Ajmal Kasab on a pedestal. Ramu does exactly that, and more, by turning Kasab into a poster child. His representation of terrorists is so basic that I couldn't believe someone once considered this guy a great director. With terrorists putting on their best scary face, shaking their guns in fury as they pump bullets into all the underpaid extras, the whole atmosphere becomes very caricaturish. From the CCTV images, Kasab looked like an excited kid out on a field trip. But Ramu's Kasab is all Bharat Mata ki Maa ki, foaming at the mouth with fury. He was lucky enough to find a guy who sort of resembled Kasab, but he tortures the poor guy to act when he clearly can't. 

The direction is so bad you wouldn't believe. This is the kind of vision which was passable in the 90s Bollywood. But at a time when we are getting movies like Zero Dark Thirty, it is mind-boggling to have Ramu expect us to keep a straight face while looking at a shot of terrorists walking around, with a statue of a Hindu deity in the foreground, and dhoom tana dhoom tana music playing in the background. 

The Attacks of 26/11 is an insensitive, amateurishly directed film. Ramu is the only filmmaker in the entire world who got an opportunity to visit the ruins of Taj Mahal Palace. It's a real shame he couldn't make a half decent movie out of his first hand experience. It is grim and grotesque just for the sake of it. Avoid at all costs.