Rocky Handsome proves that it is possible to pay good money for an official remake of a South Korean hit rather than pilfer the plot, as Bollywood has done in the past, and still botch it up.
Nishikant Kamat’s movie is a remake of The Man From Nowhere (2010), in which a laconic loner with floppy hair and boyish features turns out to be a deadly special forces soldier who retired after the death of his pregnant wife. Plagued by her memory, the former soldier’s only friend in the world is a precocious young girl next door whose mother is a drug addict and a stripper. The mother sets events in motion when she steals a stash of drugs from a club and tries to sell it in the open market. As the drug dealers come to claim their produce, they get a true measure of the ruthlessness of the girl’s tender-skinned neighbour, and when they kidnap the girl to traffic her organs, they invite a fate worse than death.
John Abraham is co-producer and lead who plays the brooder from across the landing who dotes on Naomi (Diya Chalwad), and on the surface of it, he seems apt for the role. His combination of a severely limited acting range and striking looks have been successfully exploited in exactly one movie: Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking (2007). Abraham has never been convincing as a leading man who can express himself with anything more than his fists. Rocky Handsome should have been a shoo-in for Abraham, since he is required to do little more than look pensive and fight at will, but the movie is too ineptly adapted (by Ritesh Shah) and directed to count as a comeback for Abraham as a leading man.
Director Kamat is something of a remake specialist. Every one of his films except the Marathi movie Lai Bhaari (2014) is an unofficial or official adaptation of somebody else’s vision. Force (2011) and Drishyam (2015) were remakes that missed the fundamental essence of the original films. Rocky Handsome suffers the same fate. The complicated plot is sluggishly narrated and tackily rendered, the humour forced, the Goa setting convenient and lazy, and the villains, including Kamat and Teddy Maurya as sadistic brothers named Kevin and Luke, too buffoonish to be menacing. The overall slickness of the original and the sharply edited and beautifully lensed blood-letting are completely missing in the flat Hindi translation. Besides, no movie that sells itself as a remorseless action thriller can allow Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to rip out his vocal cords in the background.
The movie’s highlights are three action sequences that have been faithfully replicated from the original. Hamstrung by local censorship laws, Rocky Handsome has had to trim back the ultraviolence that marks South Korean crime dramas¸ but at least the movie comes to life when the death count is ticking. It’s a pity that the survivors are not as interesting as the corpses.