“Todunga bhi or todke jodunga bhi” (I will break you and I will repair you too). With those bombastic words, Sidharth Malhotra, clad in a leather jacket in the Mumbai heat, proceeds to pound a gang of goons and simultaneous bandage their wounds (we kid you not).
This is Malhotra’s introduction scene as the righthand man to water mafia don Anna (Nassar). Perenially in a bandana, often with said leather jacket, Malhotra plays Raghu, an abandoned child adopted by Anna and raised as the son he always wanted. His real flesh and blood is the three-foot Vishnu (Riteish Deshmukh), who compensates for his height by wielding his inherited power while constantly seeking his father’s approval.
Vishnu sees Raghu as a rival and threat and makes it his mission to destroy the latter’s life. This conflict is the crux of the Marjaavaan, a vengeance story that pits loyalty against blood, and love against everything else. Writer-director Milap Zaveri pulls in every 1980s Bollywood movie trope to present a film designed to elicit whistles from the frontbenchers.
At the close of the 2010s, it’s not an easy aesthetic to embrace. Right from Raghu’s retro hero entry to Vishnu’s henchmen and manipulative character of a mute do-gooder who fashions a change in the bad guy, this is the quintessential throwback movie. In fact, Zoya’s (Tara Sutaria) introduction scene has her playing a harmonium, a prop that must have been retrieved from the bottom of a production box unopened since 1987.
Other characters that hover around are ACP Yadav (Ravi Kishan) and bar dancer Arzoo (Rakul Preet). Their purpose is primarily to egg Raghu on. At interval point I felt the film had ended, but there was an hour to go and several scenes dedicated to a grief-stricken Malhotra, much was yet to be endured.
The story unfolds in a lawless, somewhat fictitious Mumbai where goons ride around in open jeeps brandishing guns and firing indiscriminately, while the police is content to pander to their reputation of always being late on the scene. Sutaria is adequately sweet and fits in as the pure girl who could convert a career criminal. Malhotra’s tribute to the angry young man of the ’80s falls short even as Deshmukh rises above his stunted character (pun intended).
The action scenes are slick and Zaveri remains loyal to the milieu and garnished speeches. It might have worked too, had the story had some heft, some surprises and if one could feel the complexities of the relationships between these flawed characters who remain nothing more than billboard-sized cardboard cutouts.