Popcity Movie Film Review: A unique hitman story with a sense of humour
Arjun Radhakrishnan's central hitman comes across as a breath of fresh air when placed next to earlier depictions of the contract killer in Indian cinema
Whenever we think of the hitman in contemporary cinema, the immediate image that one always conjures up is that of a stylish, uber-cool loner who speaks less and carries out his duty with clinical, razor-sharp precision. Tom Cruise did such a portrayal to perfection in Michael Mann's Collateral. And there's Forest Whitaker in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Alain Delon in Le Samourai, both sharing a mutual admiration for the ways of the samurai. Or what about Isaac de Bankolé's stoic assassin in The Limits of Control?
Director: Rohit Mittal
Cast: Arjun Radhakrishnan, Naina Sareen, Veena Nair, Narottam Bain
In Indian cinema, however, the depiction has often been one-note, stereotypical, and devoid of any remarkable personality. But off late, we have been seeing some change in that regard. Filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan, and Avinash Arun have been experimenting with different and varied iterations of the hired killer in their films, to colourful results. And let's not forget the outstanding - but underappreciated - series, Afsos (on Amazon Prime), in which we saw a female assassin with a distinct personality. And here comes Rohit Mittal's Popcity, which was fortunate to get a digital release for the first time on YouTube.
Arjun Radhakrishnan (Rocket Boys, Dear Friend) plays the central character Gulshan Kumar as the kind of hitman who comes across as a breath of fresh air when placed next to earlier depictions in Indian cinema. Gulshan is a Tamil-speaking South Indian with anxiety issues and a Tinder profile. When one of his assignments, an older woman, assumes he is a Malayali, he corrects her. He is also commitment-phobic, as we'll later find out. As a man with an American Psycho-level narcissism, Arjun sells Gulshan's unlikeability so well. His ultimate goal is to be the country's No.1 hitman. He doesn't believe in one-night stands but wants to date women, only to dump them later. He has a weird kink, which recalled Jo Shishido's hitman with a rice fetish in Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill. His gun supplier is a woman who enjoys porn in her free time. And here's where it gets more amusing. His latest assignment is given to him by three middle-aged women who discuss that new teleserial when not bothered by other responsibilities.
One gets the sense that Rohit Mittal has drawn inspiration from all kinds of assassin thrillers because his love for them is evident in the film's overall tone. Popcity is more akin to the Japanese thrillers from the 60s, which had a comical flavour to them aside from, of course, the fatalistic bent that characterised many contract killer movies. The funniest moment happens in a police station when two cops get frustrated with one elderly gentleman who proudly presents himself as a witness. But the atmosphere, enhanced by a moody electronic score, also evokes the work of Michael Mann and Anurag Kashyap.
The film's atmosphere occasionally has the texture of a nightmare but is devoid of flashiness. It takes us to the dingiest areas of Mumbai, be it Gulshan's residence or of his contacts. It also emulates the graphic novel approach by having the protagonist's voiceover dominate most of the runtime. It's an intelligent choice that immediately informs us of the overall tone. We are not supposed to take the whole thing seriously. This film is not up for deep conversations. When you get inside Gulshan's head and listen to his observations on life and personal struggles, you can't help but chuckle.
I mentioned earlier about three older women giving him his new assignment. Their target is a female journalist recently privy to information that they don't want to see published. One of the above trio gets so emotional and is comforted by the other two when she tells Gulshan that such journalists "have no religion and that they need to write less and talk less." This is a movie where the percentage of women is more than that of men. During a crisis, Gulshan wonders whether all his troubles were caused by a conspiracy hatched by women who yearn for his destruction.
When Gulshan hooks up with a female lawyer that he thinks "doesn't look like one," their moment of privacy is intruded upon by Roma (Naina Sareen), who takes issue with the fact that he has conveniently forgotten her existence and moved on to other women. When a hilarious catfight ensues, he watches on. In another humourous scene, she asks him, "Are you French?" when he expresses his disinterest in what Indian people usually do (get married, have kids). However, the film makes it obvious that it isn't as insensitive as Gulshan. In an intense moment that follows, where Gulshan lashes out at Roma and rudely tells her that he has no intention of a serious commitment, she breaks down, and we feel so bad for her.
For a film that swirls around a male character, Popcity eventually lets us know whose side it really is on. In an earlier scene, the female journalist tells her undecided colleague that she knows whose side he wants to be on despite his ambiguity. I can say the same about the film too.