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Sooryavanshi Movie Review: Akshay Kumar fights less, lectures more- Cinema express

Sooryavanshi Movie Review: Akshay Kumar fights less, lectures more

Action delayed is action denied in Rohit Shetty’s mammoth epic

Published: 05th November 2021
Sooryavanshi Movie Review: Akshay Kumar fights less, lectures more

I skipped the press show to catch Sooryavanshi at a single-screen theatre in Mumbai. Findings: confused silence during the opening voiceover. A couple of stragglers arguing about their seats, masks in hand. A young boy trying to shoot a short video and getting rapped by the staff. Muffled hoots at Akshay Kumar’s entry scene. And, after almost forty-five minutes, genuine laughter and joy spreading through the seats. 

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Jaaved Jafferi, Ranveer Singh, Ajay Devgn, Kumud Mishra, Gulshan Grover, Jackie Shroff
Director: Rohit Shetty

This wasn’t expected. Sooryavanshi was supposed to be more propulsive than this. It is, after all, the biggest Hindi theatrical release post the pandemic. It has a reported budget of over Rs. 120 crore. Crucially, it is an Akshay-Rohit Shetty team-up—which, in cinephile terms, is about as exciting as Martin Scorsese finally casting Al Pacino in The Irishman. And yet, for all its promise, Sooryavanshi fails to become the blustering blockbuster it is meant to be. 

I blame the plot. Simmba, Rohit’s last release, had a thoroughly enjoyable first-half. I expected the director to lean into that vibe and simply amp up the stakes. He attempts a trick or two—DCP Veer Sooryavanshi (Akshay) frequently misremembers names, like saying ‘Syria’ for ‘Ria’—but otherwise keeps proceedings depressingly grim. The story concerns Veer’s attempts to track down 600 kilos of missing RDX. There are flashes to 1993, 2007. Crime writer Hussain Zaidi is credited for research and development. It’s great to see a commercial filmmaker like Rohit fill us in on context. Black Friday, though, is no one’s idea of a Diwali release.

The film is always trying to even out its politics. It isn’t hateful, just often daft and dramatic. We get a Good Muslim-Bad Muslim scene that’s as long as it is unnecessary. Reprimanding a terror-suspect in his office, Veer points to a patriotic Muslim officer and his soon-to-join-ATS son. “There’s as much hate in this country for Kasab,” he says, “as there is love for Kalam.” He could have added Zakir Hussain, Ashfaqulla Khan, Abdul Hamid, AR Rahman, Mohammed Rafi, Shah Rukh Khan….but I guess a GK book wasn’t lying around.

It does not help that Sooryavanshi never provides a clear antagonist to latch on to. It seems like the casting directors were unsure about who to call, and ended up bringing everybody. The sheer roll-call is stunning: Jackie Shroff, shrouded in black in most scenes; Abhimanyu Singh, perpetually wicked; and Gulshan Grover, doing his gravelled voice from 16 December. Amid the crowd, it’s actor Vivan Bhatena who stands out, cast as a loyal cop and not his usual villain types.

Akshay, starting his fourth decade in Bollywood, takes quite a few jokes on his age—and looks relaxed and secure while doing it. His reunion with Katrina Kaif, after many years, might excite fans, even if a Tip Tip Barsa Pani retread is the entry cost. Katrina plays a character so thinly written she has to keep reminding herself who she is. “This is a hospital,” she asserts angrily. “And the doctor is me.”

Rohit has stated his theory before of action movies needing a solid emotional grounding. He takes this to the limit in one sequence, several choppers flying down over a sappy inspirational song. His signature car-go-boom and camera-dollying-in-from-ground-on-hero’s-face attractions are all there, but Sooryavanshi appears to be aiming for sentimental terrain. He lets go in the climax, combining action, humour, and crossover cameos—Ranveer Singh and Ajay Devgn drop in from earlier films—into a cohesive whole. It’s a cracker finish, and it pays off. 

During the interval, I was about to step out when a Vicky Kaushal advert came up on screen. The trim and energetic actor shakes off goons, grins in slow-motion and dashes into a police station. For a moment, I had a vision for another Shetty film, albeit one with some real cut and thrust. This cop universe could use some fresh blood. 

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