Tiger Shroff made his first screen appearance in the romantic action drama Heropanti in 2014, but Baaghi marks his real debut. The young actor with one of the most unusual faces and the fittest bodies in the movie business is perfectly cast as Ronnie, a martial arts champion who combines kalaripayattu and Muay Thai to kick and smash his way through all manner of opposition. A line that Ronnie is a bit too fond of repeating in the movie rings true for Shroff’s prospects too: “I am only just getting started.”
Baaghi is a derivative mishmash of several popular romances and martial arts classics, including Tezaab, Enter the Dragon, The Karate Kid, and The Raid: Redemption, but director Sabbir Khan at least gets the spirit of the action sequences right. Khan is far better at borrowing than creating compelling original material, and the bits that work the best are the spectacular fights, shot to mimic their East Asian predecessors as closely as possible and made utterly believable by Shroff’s command of his body and moves.
Since Ronnie is an Indian movie hero, his supposed motivation is his love for Sia (Shraddha Kapoor) and his rescue of her stricken self from the evil eye of the villainous Raghav (Sudheer Babu). Ronnie isn’t pursuing martial arts for its own sake like Bruce Lee, on whom he is clearly modelled, but he looks happiest when he is doing a headstand or a split.
It’s hard to like Sia, she of the head tosses and coquettish mannerisms¸ and yet, Sia is the one for Ronnie after he meets her during a train journey. It rains every time they are together (an idea filched from the Telugu movie Varsham), and by the time Ronnie has entered a kalaripayattu training centre that he has been forced to join by his father, he is both smitten and distracted.
The centre is run by Guruswamy, the movie’s other star character. Played effectively by Shifuji Shaurya Bharadwaj, a kalaripayattu exponent and action trainer in real life, Guruswamy is the sensei to Ronnie’s undisciplined student. Guruswamy slaps Ronnie into shape even as Raghav, who happens to be Guruswamy’s son, begins to covet Sia and gets her grubby-handed father Khurana (Sunil Grover) on his side.
For all his wisdom that has come down the centuries, Guruswamy does not know that Raghav is actually a drug lord in Bangkok. The stage is set for the one-man army named Ronnie to take down Raghav’s empire, which Ronnie does with more enthusiasm than he displays during his courtship. The 139-minute movie packs in songs and a grating comedy track performed by Sanjay Mishra and Sumit Gulati and even allows Sia to smash a few heads in, and it holds interest only when its rubber-bodied hero is on the screen. Shroff is far more comfortable using his fists than his facial muscles, but his undeniable martial arts skills makes him a worthy successor to the granite-faced East Asian luminaries of the genre.