Liger has mixed marital arts, misogyny and Mike Tyson. It’s missing another m: a mind.
Filmed simultaneously in Telugu and Hindi, Liger is the latest attempt to effect a two-way crossover between Hyderabad and Mumbai. Directed by Puri Jagannadh (Pokiri, Temper) and led by Arjun Reddy star Vijay Devarakonda, the action drama hopes to land with an ear-splitting roar but has to be content instead with loud whimpers.
Devarakonda’s Liger is a tea-seller who has migrated from Karimnagar to Mumbai to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. One of the first lessons imparted by Liger’s trainer (Ronit Roy) is also the film’s maxim: woman is the ruin of man.
Liger’s fiery mother Balamani (Ramya Krishnan) echoes the advice, which is borne out when love walks in on high heels and the kind of clothing that filmmakers love to hate. Tanya (Ananya Panday) is an entitled brat who happens to be the sister of Liger’s MMA rival Sanju (Vish). Tanya is so entranced by Liger’s hunkiness that she doesn’t let him get a word in edgeways and therefore fails to grasp that he has a bad stammer.
Between simpering bimbo and stuttering himbo, it’s a match in heaven. Since Liger is a natural-born fighter who actually doesn’t need training to triumph in the ring, the contrived conflict between the lovers is about the only obstacle on the way to sporting glory.
The energetic action sequences, in which a super-fit Devarakonda strains every sinew to be convincing, should have been the film’s highlight. But Jagannadh’s screenplay is ever so distracted by the question of a woman’s place in the world. Girls are okay to kiss but not to fight, Liger hectors a bunch of competent-looking female fighters.
For comic effect, there is Balamani successfully yelling motivational instructions to Liger through a television set. Balamani’s ability to bend the space-time continuum can’t match the moment when legendary American boxer Mike Tyson enters the frame.
Tyson, playing the fictional character Mark Anderson, arrives at the point at which the 140-minute film has already run out of juice. Having exhausted his energy on woman-bashing, shrew-taming and filming Devarakonda’s physical prowess from every imaginable angle, Jagannadh doesn’t quite know what to do with the mercurial pugilist.
The conversation that persuaded Tyson to be in Liger could be its own movie. It might be more entertaining too.