After years of wandering through the screen in a haze, Randeep Hooda is finally settling into the movies. He is well cast as Shankar, a charismatic racketeer who runs an illegal blood bank from a college campus in Karnal in Haryana. Shankar has a sweet deal worked out with the laboratory head (Rajendra Sethi), one that involves siphoning off packets of the vital red fluid and replacing them with donations from rickshaw sellers and religious mendicants. Like kidneys and water tankers, Shankar’s product never goes out of demand, and when dengue strikes the town, he makes a killing.
Wide-eyed student Rajesh (Akshay Oberoi) is smitten by Shankar, both by the man and the money to be made. Shankar is a magnetic and Mephistophelean criminal who inspires Rajesh to lose his scruples and rake in the rupees that he needs to impress his sweetheart Poonam (Piaa Bajpai). There is the added bonus of Shankar’s retro-cool Yamaha RX100 motorbike, which is showcased in slow motion in so many sequences that you might be forgiven for thinking you are in the middle of an advertising commercial.
Director Syed Ahmed Fazal likes to repeat himself, so there are also far too many scenes of Shankar smoking, drawing on cigarettes, charming the ladies (especially a particularly lucky college staffer) and generally sashaying about like Jack Sparrow. Rajesh is understandably drawn to this small-town dandy, but his greed gets the better of him. When the police come sniffing in the form of hard-nosed police officer Gajraj Singh (Rajneish Duggal), Rajesh strikes out on his own with disastrous results.
The story is slight and stretched, and there isn’t enough meat it in to adequately explore the potential themes – the bromance that develops between Shankar and Rajesh, the moral concerns over illegal blood donation, the exploitation of poor donors, and the general shortage of the life-giving fluid that makes racketeering a necessity. The use of Haryanvi-inflected Hindi in the quest for authenticity renders half the dialogue unintelligible. Perhaps such movies need to be released with subtitles?
Then there is the adoration of Hooda’s character. The movie is so bent on making Shankar the ultimate symbol of cool this side of the Aravallis that it forgets that he is hardly a paragon of virtue.
But Fazal does get his milieu right, and a tighter narrative would have showcased the movie’s well-observed characters better. The actors seem to be enjoying themselves. Oberoi is convincing as the ambitious lackey, Bajpai has fun mangling the English language (Rapidex is the culprit) and Hooda slinks about like a panther, content with the knowledge that he is the movie’s star even when he is corrupting half the population.
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