Genius Review: This star-kid is let down by old-fashioned filmmaking
Everything goes wrong in this '80s formula film
Films like Genius are an upshot of indulgent parenting. A director father (Anil Sharma) - known for mounting mass classics like Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and Apne - is launching his US-returned son (Utkarsh). Suddenly, a lot seems at stake. Not every debutant lands a Kaho Na Pyaar Hai; there are the Armaan Kohlis, Adhyayan Sumans and Girish Tauranis of the world to fret about. So here's how Sharma ji goes about introducing his lad: he pinches tropes from the '80s, gives them a modern once-over, picks a one-note heroine, adds action, sprinkles some desh-bhakti and, for credibility's sake, casts Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the villain. The formula, in Sharma's mind, seems tight. Nothing, from here, can go wrong.
Director: Anil Sharma
Actors: Utkarsh Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ishita Chauhan, Mithun Chakraborty
Everything does. Whatever chances the sweet-faced, spontaneous Utkarsh had of making a career in Bollywood is jinxed by his dad's ancient filmmaking. Genius is exactly the sort of faux-techno-thriller-meets-cornball-actioner that we think was dead but keeps coming back (in unrelated news, Himesh Reshammiya is the composer of the film).
Let's start with the plot: Vasudev Shastri (Utkarsh) is an orphaned IIT-Roorkee topper who freelances as a hacker for National agencies. He falls in love with the snooty college belle, Nandini (Ishita Chauhan). Their romance flames up at a campus quiz contest - 'Brain Olympics' - where Nandini shames Vasu for his love for Sanskrit. In response, our desi, traditionalist hero shoots a mouthful about vedic science and the power of shlokas, leaving the uptown girl flummoxed. Looking at his crush, Vasu smiles, "Screw Brain Olympics, let's play Heart Olympics." Two songs later, Nandini leaves for America while he joins RAW.
Genius scales up in no time, and just before interval, ISI operative and arms kingpin 'MRS' (Nawazuddin) makes his entry. Coming off the gravy train of Kick and Munna Michael, Nawazuddin - as expected - breezes through his performance. Even then, there's something quietly pleasurable about watching Bollywood's favourite underdog arrive atop a swanky BMW and shoot bullets in a furry trench-coat. "Cross the line, and you will be rich," Nawaz keeps repeating to Utkarsh in the film, as if talking to himself.
The story vamooses from a missing arms case to an international spy mission - shot, quite unappealingly, in Lakshwadeep and Mauritius. As has become routine with such films, the National Flag is trivialised for demented stunts and dialogues such as, "For us patriots, there's only sanskaar, woh bhi antim," are heard. A feeble attempt is made to explore digital terrorism and cyber attacks, but the blinking HUDs and CGI bomb blasts arrive draped in cringe. Mithun Chakraborty, playing an NSA head and MRS's sworn enemy, looks constantly rueful about signing the film, tailed closely by Ayesha Jhulka. Towards the end, as the plot turns twisty and more agents turn up dead, a dramatic TV anchor poses the rhetorical question, "Yeh hatya hai, ya aatma-hatya? (Is it murder, or suicide?)"
Will we ever know?