Remember the women who have been assaulted, stabbed, burnt or disfigured by stalkers? Mohit Suri’s Ek Villain Returns revisits crimes of this sort – from the perspective of the perpetrators.
Suri’s slick storytelling, smart casting choices and a series of plot turns are laid at the service of a self-described “twisted love story”. Another descriptor comes to mind, one that begins with p, ends with e, and sounds similar to the word “obverse”.
Arjun Kapoor is aptly cast as Gautam, a wealthy brat who lives by the credo “I would rather die than lose.” That said, Gautam survives the loss of his beloved well enough to latch onto upcoming singer Aarvi (Tara Sutaria).
Their torrid romance is marked by ups and downs, which includes a faked rape attempt on Aarvi’s rival. After they break up, Aarvi is brutally attacked. Gautam is the obvious suspect, but forensic specialist Ganesan (JD Chakravarthy) has his doubts.
Gautam’s path is set to cross with another wounded soul in Mumbai. Bhairav (John Abraham) has fallen hard for store assistant Rasika (Disha Patani) and spends his earnings on fulfilling her material needs. When he isn’t hunched behind a steering wheel, Bhairav works at the city’s zoo – an important detail as far as this film is concerned.
Bhairav’s love for Rasika, presented as pure and selfless, sets up an encounter with Gautam, who is on the prowl for Aarvi’s attacker. There’s a great deal of talk about the true nature of heroism and villainy. The screenplay, by Mohit Suri and Aseem Arrora, leaves no doubt about where its sympathies lie.
The film is a spiritual sequel to Suri’s Ek Villain (2014), in which Riteish Deshmukh’s serial killer starts targetting women because he’s fed up with his nagging wife. The displacement of responsibility onto the victim continues in Ek Villain Returns. Misogyny is more than a suspense-creating gimmick in a movie that champions men who cannot get over break-ups and portrays women who have chosen to move as as heartless creatures.
Imagine Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle let loose on Mumbai, but without the social context. Or re-categorise Hollywood’s countless serial killers under the euphemism “jilted lovers”. Closer home, if Kabir Singh had laid his hands on a mask and a sledgehammer, he might not have drunk himself silly.
At the bare minimum, the film fulfils its every intention to annoy right-thinking people who know that “no means no”. It’s unwittingly funny too, such as the moment when Shaad Randhawa’s police officer, in hot pursuit of Gautam, yells, call the Rapid Action Force! Why not the Army?
A coupling scene set in the zoo, amidst computer-generated animals and a dangerously close serrated blade, raises laughs rather than the temperature. Rasika’s habit of giving Bhairav ratings might make us think twice about how we treat Uber drivers.
The giggles disappear when a man confronts his ex with a weapon. Heads are bludgeoned and the blood flows throughout Ek Villain Returns, but there’s nothing more frightening than the valourisation of misogyny.