Gabbar is Back borrows the name of a renowned screen villain from the past for a film that advocates vigilante solutions for endemic corruption in the present. Just how seriously the movie tackles malfeasance is illustrated in an exchange between builder Digvijay Patil (Suman) and our bearded vigilante hero Aditya about who the "bigger brand" is. Is it Aditya aka Gabbar, who is played by Akshay Kumar? Or is it Digvijay, who has amassed his vast fortune by constructing shoddy buildings, including killed Aditya’s wife when it collapsed?

Gabbar is Back is designed as a star vehicle for Kumar’s limited acting skills but considerable fighting prowess. For this most part, it is a faithful remake of the 2002 Tamil hit Ramanaa, which featured screen strongman Vijaykanth.

Aditya is a college professor who secretly runs an outfit that brings corrupt officials to book by kidnapping them and killing off the most evil of them. As the largely inept (and also dishonest) police force scrambles around for clues, English-speaking constable Sadhu (Sunil Grover) zooms in on Professor Aditya. The exact nature of Aditya pedagogy remains a mystery till the very end, just as it is never clear why it is healthy to recommend that college youth, described as “the future” in a speech by Aditya, should participate in the mass hangings of unscrupulous officials.

If this herd of Gabbar followers is seen as India’s tomorrow, the biggest danger surely isn’t corruption, but cynicism.

Contrivances aplenty

Meanwhile, either by coincidence or a screenwriting contrivance that is so clever the audience never really gets it, Aditya takes on a private hospital that fleeces its patients, and happens to be owned by Digvijay Patil. The stage is set for a confused battle waged by Aditya against the abstract evil of corruption and the concrete figure of the actor Suman. In between, Shruti Haasan frets and simpers away, while Chitrangada Singh juggles her hips for an item song. In the long list of problems facing the nation that this film contemplates, gender equality is somewhere at the bottom.

The absurdity of cops running around to protect crooked government officials remains an underdeveloped gag in a 130-minute movie. Jaideep Ahlawat, playing a Central Bureau of Investigation officer, provides a few unintended laughs by trying to overpower the overloud background score (by Amar Mohile, a specialist in damaging eardrums). In some scenes, the score drowns out the dialogue, which isn’t really such a bad thing.