The very first shot tells you about the distance between Baaghi 3 and its source material, the Tamil movie Vettai (2012). Vettai was set in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, while much of Baaghi 3 plays out in Syria. Yup, the same one, and if it appears barely touched by war and its cobble-stoned streets and tiled structures betray a distinctive European influence, that is because Serbia is standing in for the West Asian nation. The arc is completed in the closing credits, in which Vettai is identified as a “Telugu” film.

Competence, clearly, is not a feature of the latest chapter in the Baaghi franchise, directed by Ahmed Khan and clocking a bruising two hours and 27 minutes. Elsewhere in the movie, a character identifies himself by one name even when the label on his uniform suggests something else. A lowly police inspector from Agra is sent to Syria on a top-secret mission to nab the dreaded terrorist Abu Jalal Gaza. Abu heads an Islamic State-like group and is so notorious in the region that the local law enforcement doesn’t even know what he looks like.

A Pakistani character speaks in a Deccani accent imported from Hyderabad via Mumbai. Meanwhile, headscarf-wearing women keep cycling around the few streets and squares in this Serbian town passing itself off as a Middle Eastern hotbed in the hope that the flight of fancy won’t crashland.

Tiger Shroff in Baaghi 3 (2020). Courtesy Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment/Fox Star Studios.

But crash it does, with the same force as three helicopters chasing our redoubtable hero and aiming their assault weapons on him but patiently withholding fire so that he may get the better of them. Tiger Shroff plays Ronnie, a character first introduced as a martial arts exponent in Baaghi (2016). Ronnie retained his name but got a new job (Army commando) and a new lover (Disha Patani) in Baaghi 2 (2018). In the latest saga, Ronnie is jobless but has a full-time responsibility: making sure his nervy and timid elder brother Vikram (Riteish Deshmukh) is not harmed in any way.

Vikram gets into the police force after the death of their inspector father (Jackie Shroff). Law and order in Agra is neatly divided between the siblings. Ronnie does all the bone-breaking and Vikram gets all the credit. The brothers are in such good sync that they even score with a pair of sisters (Ankita Lokhande as Vikram’s wife, Shraddha Kapoor as Ronnie’s girlfriend).

The division of labour works out a bit too well for Vikram: he is sent to Syria in pursuit of IPL (Jaideep Ahlawat), a local thug who has been kidnapping Agra’s residents and shipping them off to Abu so that he may deploy them as suicide bombers. When Abu captures Vikram, the movie unleashes Ronnie on Syria/Serbia, and its impact on geopolitics in the Middle East can only be imagined.

Riteish Deshmukh in Baaghi 3 (2020). Courtesy Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment/Fox Star Studios.

Abu is flummoxed by his new adversary and wants to know, who is invading my territory? America? Russia? Mossad? The adapted story, attributed to producer Sajid Nadiadwala, and the screenplay, by Farjad Samji, completely miss the joke – and the opportunity to make a spoof about one-man armies who demolish heavily armed terrorists, helicopters and tanks without assistance.

The original movie was barely competent to begin with, but at least the jokes were better. Baaghi 3 resolutely keeps the bar low. Its only ambition is to showcase Tiger Shroff, that perfectly proportioned mass of muscle and grace who appears to be not quite human but a runaway from a bionics laboratory. There are moments in Baaghi 3 when Shroff offers further proof that he isn’t a member of Homo Sapiens but some kind of ubermensch created by a mad scientist who happens to be a fan of dancing. Shroff is never out of step, whether on the dance floor or the battlefield, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t have the energy to spare for the emotional scenes. Putting other action heroes and stunt artists out of work is hard enough.

Every other actor tries to overcompensate by mugging furiously, but none of them leaves a trace. Apart from a couple of lavishly mounted action scenes, Baaghi 3 has little going for it, except, perhaps, the compulsion to drag the franchise along for as long as its leading man is able and willing. Ronnie will probably get a new profession and a new lover in the inevitable fourth movie, and maybe a smart story and screenplay will come along too.

Baaghi 3 (2020).