Ajay Devgn’s Kaithi remake dials up an already action-heavy movie with a psychedelic colour palette, a 3D IMAX tech upgrade and an insistent background score by K.G.F composer Ravi Basrur. Bholaa is also available in 2D, but the IMAX screen perhaps best complements the very close close-ups that lend an oft-kilter feel to an otherwise largely faithful remake.

The original Tamil film from 2019, written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, borrowed its “wrong place, wrong time, right guy” conceit from a bunch of Hollywood films, from Assault on Precinct 13 to Mad Max: Fury Road via Con Air. Kanagaraj intertwined three narrative strands for a thriller which, despite plot holes and implausible flights of fancy, delivered the goods.

Among the few inspired changes in the Hindi version is a gender flip. Tabu plays the police officer Diana – gleefully mispronounced as daayan, or witch, by the villains – who is hotly pursued by a gang led by Ashu (Deepak Dobriyal) after she seizes their massive stash of cocaine. Diana must rely on the enigmatic Bholaa (Devgn) to drive her in a truck to the safety of her police station.

The station is guarded by the elderly constable Angad (Sanjay Mishra) and four unfortunate teenagers. This ragtag bunch of saviours holds fort while Bholaa, Diana and navigator Kadchi (Amir Khan) battle an array of adversaries who are reputed to be ruthless drug dealers but are careful to bring only knives to a knife fight. The overall absence of guns gives Bholaa plenty of opportunity to suggest that he isn’t quite the innocent bystander dragged into a situation he has not signed up for.

Tabu in Bholaa (2023). Courtesy Ajay Devgn Ffilms/T-Series/Dream Warrior Pictures.

Devgn has also tacked a back story onto the movie (featuring a cameo by Amala Paul) that sets up a sequel in the manner that Kanagaraj designed Kaithi to be the first film in the so-called Lokesh Cinematic Universe. (The second movie, Vikram, was released in 2022). Bholaa ends with a cameo by a character who holds the key to Bholaa’s incarceration and the reason for his decade-long separation from his daughter Jyoti.

Devgn is typically solid as the volcanic action hero; Tabu is in excellent form as the intensely focused police officer, making the most of her action scenes; Deepak Dobriyal has his moments as a psychotic villain who flicks his tongue like a lizard. An important behind-the-scenes player is cinematographer Aseem Bajaj, who shoots several scenes with richly coloured filters and shoves his camera right into the faces of the actors so that you may gaze upon the curvature of their eyebrows.

The film’s heightened look is among the stronger features of a clinical remake. The mediocre dialogue, delivered to Ravi Basrur’s omnipresent cacophony, ensures that none of the secondary characters leaves a mark. Sanjay Mishra’s lone policeman, an important player in the Tamil film who was memorably portrayed by George Maryan, is one of the casualties of the journey from Chennai to Mumbai and Tamil to Hindi.

The action, the camerawork, Devgn’s athleticism and Tabu’s poise keep the eyeballs engaged. The nagging sense of an artificially induced high, not unlike the one sought by Dobriyal’s Ashu, never goes away.

Bholaa (2023).