'Blank' review: A childish techno-thriller far behind its time

With ‘high-concept’ techno-thrillers mounted on low-ambition storytelling plinth, Blank is another dated action thriller which may remind you of the early 2000s.
A still from Blank
A still from Blank

If anything, Blank made me miss the early 2000s. Those were the days of ‘high-concept’ techno-thrillers mounted on low-ambition storytelling plinths. 16 December, Qayamat: City Under Threat, Dus... many come to mind. Almost all of them featured a doomsday plot; men and women in clandestine bureaus typing frantically into Command Prompt while hacking in and out of enemy networks. The heroes donned spiffy streetwear, or trenchcoats, and spoke into earpieces. The villain, more often than not — and this bit hasn’t changed — was a bearded sage.

The slickness of these movies feels dated now, yet we must account for the time they were made in. India - and Indian cinema - was still transitioning into the digital world, and the blanket paranoia of post-9/11 Hollywood invariably fed into its upstart eastern counterpart. Which is why it’s weird that a film like Blank is made now. Our cinema appears to have moved on. The implied ‘coolness’ of information warfare has been replaced by the bare-knuckle aggression of films like Uri: The Surgical Strike. There is a general push for realism and the omniscience of technology has rendered it less cinematic. Terror, too, has lost some of its alien exclusivity and demands context.

In fact, true to the mental state of its protagonist, Blank feels like a film constantly catching up with itself. The plot is a bit gaffed: the trailer had promised a Jason Bourne-like scenario of a suspected terrorist losing his memory ahead of a terror attack, all while a high-risk detonator ticks away on his chest. Not much is made of this central log line, as characters lay down their cards all too quickly and plunge into action-movie territory. I was initially put off by this convenient shifting of tracks until I was reminded of the actors playing cat and mouse.

Sunny Deol appears as a blunted policeman rightly named after a piece of furniture. As ATS chief SS Dewan, Deol is tasked with tapping into the mind of Hanif (debutant Karan Kapadia), a young man with a hazy past and puckered lips that recall Suniel Shetty of old. Hanif is seen wearing a black zip-up sweatshirt in every scene — a discomforting detail in the swell of summer, worsened by the film’s deliberately balmy set design: stuffy rooms and interrogation cells lit by prison sconces, with no ventilation in sight. Some visual relief comes in a parallel track set high up in the mountains, where career terrorist Maqsood (a hilariously airy Jameel Khan) brainwashes young militants with stories of ‘Jannat-e-Firdaus’.

For some reason, debutant director Behzad Khambata seems big on representation. The long parade of terrorists features a female operative, as well as two Chinese gunmen who turn up in the final boss fight. None, of course, stand a chance before Sunny — who shouts down fellow officers with the same vehemence with which he front-tackles his enemies. Karan keeps up a straight face imperative to the role (a clever choice for a debut part), occasionally emoting a notch above his mark, even as make-up artists go to town on his face with bruises that look like worms.

“Terrorism has only one religion... Money,” pontificates a character in Blank — words that ring as hollow as the film’s title. The ending puts forth a secular message but does little to pacify the existent climate of hate. The background score is a horror unto itself. “Now we are safe,” declares the leader of the bomb disposal squad in one scene. Are we, really?

Directors: Behzad Khambata
Cast: Sunny Deol, Karan Kapadia, Karanvir Sharma

Rating: 1.5/5

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