The Army officer who strapped an innocent Kashmiri man to the front of his vehicle and used him as a human shield in April 2017 has been identified. It wasn’t actually Major Nitin Gogoi, but Tiger Shroff. The Indian media really needs to get its facts straight.
The moment appears early in Ahmed Khan’s Baaghi 2, a spiritual sequel to Shroff’s 2016 hit Baaghi. Shroff is back as the character named Ronnie, but this time with a different back story and a different woman to rattle his id. Ronnie was a street fighter in the first movie, but in the new production, he is an Army commando posted in Kashmir. The human shield scene is supposed to confirm Ronnie’s deep-seated patriotism and daring, one that comes with an inbuilt applause-meter. But in its tone-deafness and staggering lack of sensitivity to the reality of the April human rights violation, the sequence is of a piece with the rest of Baaghi 2, which recommends that when crime and corruption boil over in the civilian world, it is time for the men in olive to step in.
In the 2016 Telugu movie of which Baaghi 2 is an official remake, the hero was a civilian. In Ravikanth Perepu’s Kshanam, an investment banker is asked by his former girlfriend to investigate her five-year-old daughter’s kidnapping. The banker’s initial investigations indicate that the girl is a figment of his ex’s imagination. If she suffering from a psychotic breakdown, or is there a larger conspiracy at work? Kshanam coasts along despite its inherent preposterousness by creating twists for viewers in every other scene, reserving the biggest one for the climax.
Baaghi 2 mixes Kshanam with elements from Rambo: First Blood 2, the sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s 1982 action blockbuster First Blood. While Ronnie has been busy strapping a man to the bonnet of his Jeep, his former lover Neha (Disha Patani) has been dialling him furiously. It has been two months since Neha’s daughter Riya went missing, and she turns to her bulked-up ex for help.
Ronnie creates trouble at the police station soon after he arrives, earning a rebuke from Director General of Police Ajay (Manoj Bajpayee). With the help of car rental service owner Usman (Deepak Dobriyal), an undeterred Ronnie conducts an informal investigation, which brings him in the crosshairs of Ajay, maverick police officer LSD (Randeep Hooda), Neha’s husband Shekhar (Darshan Kumar), Shekhar’s drug addict brother Sunny (Prateik Babbar) and assorted bearded burlies.
Director Ahmed Khan hurls everything he has at the screen but little sticks. He retains the plot twists from Kshanam, throws in songs to showcase the chemistry between Shroff and Patani with an item number for good measure (the ghastly Ek Do Teen remix, featuring Jacqueline Fernandez) and pads Ronnie’s mission with light-hearted comedy (Why is LSD called LSD? You will never guess). The comic scenes allow Bajpayee and Hooda to register their presence despite their limited screen time, while Babbar is suitably menacing as the lascivious dopehead with kohl-lined eyes and an abundance of tattoos.
The reason this 144-minute movie exists finally comes into view in the extended climax. Tiger Shroff gets to show off his perfectly chiseled chest and his enviable fighting skills in a few early scenes, but as he tells a police officer giving him the rough treatment in custody: this is my warm-up.
The action spectacle is reserved for the concluding moments, which are borrowed from First Blood 2. A line from First Blood also finds its way to Baaghi 2, “The war is finally over, son!” The presence of Thai extras (Baaghi 2’s climax was shot in Thailand) adds to the confusion of whether Baaghi 2 is a remake of a Telugu movie or an unacknowledged copy of a Hollywood film about the lingering effects of America’s misguided war in Vietnam.
Bollywood is adept at borrowing while simultaneously stripping the source material of political context. The supremely athletic Shroff, who can also burn up the dance floor, is the perfect blank canvas onto which to project a fantasy military solution. Stallone tapped into American military history to create the Rambo myth. Since Ronnie’s mythology includes using human shields, he turns out to be as conservative and war-mongering as Rambo. Fortunately for us, Ronnie’s mission is ultimately fuelled by love. Baaghi 2 converts Rambo’s lonely war against a society that refuses to acknowledge the contributions of its soldiers into a sappy love story. Disha Patani is well cast as the helpless heroine who cannot function without a brawny shoulder to lean on.
Tiger Shroff is still waiting for the movie that shapes his limited emoting abilities and limitless action skills into a character who embodies the times. His action films have been based mostly on borrowed material. Heropanti, his debut in 2014, was a remake of the Telugu production Parugu. Baaghi lifted ideas from the Hollywood hit The Raid (2011). The script that taps into Shroff’s particular talents hasn’t yet been written, and it is not likely to be found anywhere between Hollywood and the battleground of Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Tiger Shroff roars on, straining every sinew of this face in an impressive display of hit-first-and-think-later bravado. He might eventually grow into the Salman Khan machine gun-toting peacenik, uniting Indians and Pakistanis in a quest for subcontinental calm. But for now, Shroff has been cast in Rambo mould, and it will have to do.