Imagine a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film gone to seed. Imagine a Rohit Shetty film with zero comic punch.
Imagine a Mohit Suri film with more rain than can be legally afforded in Maharashtra. Imagine, above all, a John Wick film with Sidharth Malhotra in an orange shirt and nicked Michael Jackson memorabilia.
In Marjaavaan, director Milap Milan Zaveri stretches his film influences to dizzying extravagance.
It isn’t malicious like Satyameva Jayate, his last attempt, though the fixations endure: an 80s masala template, dance bars and remixes, infuriating rhyme schemes, and a pyro-maniacal obsession.
Unfolding in Mumbai, the film is about Raghu (Sidharth), a street thug who falls in love with Zoya (Tara Sutaria), a speech-impaired girl.
Raghu’s boss is a South Indian gangster, whose son Vishnu (Riteish Deshmukh) is a dwarf. Vishnu wants Raghu dead, but before he can get to that, the story turns and we see Raghu shooting Zoya in the chest. Why…why… did he kill her? The film wants you to keep guessing, like a perverse and sadistic Baahubali.
Milap shares Bhansali’s love for syncretic production design. The town-square where much of the film is set is flanked by a Mosque and a Dussehra clearing.
At one point, a janaza (funeral procession) passes by, with a Jesus statue pointing the way. Raghu has various religious icons tattooed on his knuckles. “Mandir aur Masjid dono milenge…” he says in one scene, rather presciently for our times.
There’s another Bhansali import—in the character of Rakul Preet’s Aarzoo—the dejected, long-suffering courtesan. Rakul’s performance is hammy, but best embodies the seedy excess of Milap’s style. And yes, this film is big on action too, but, like I said, without the required Shettisms.
The set-pieces are unironic and poorly edited, and while Sidharth tries to land a few punches, he lacks the ferocity of a Ranveer Singh on the loose. Likewise, given far too much screen time, Riteish’s Vishnu loses edge.
He makes a gripping entry—shadow-first while crooning a self-tribute—but quickly dwindles into a cartoon villain. He also gets the stupidest lines. For instance, “Aaj jumma hai, Mazhar masjid jayega…” (Today is Friday, Mazhar will go to the mosque).
The fun bits in Marjaavaan are sparse. There’s a heavy who looks like Abhishek Bachchan on steroids. Ravi Kishan plays a cop named Ravi.
The dialogues are ridiculously bloated —Raghu doesn’t want ‘badla’, he wants ‘intekaam’. The final boss-fight ensues during Dussehra, but also includes a reference to Janmasthami, with extras forming a human pyramid around Sidharth.
The overall writing, however, remains self-serious. The film’s weakest link is the love story, yet it is treated with the heaviness of a brooding musical. Marjaavaan is no Aashiqui 2 or Kabir Singh. In those two films, at least the heroine lives.
Director: Milap Milan Zaveri
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Tara Sutaria, Riteish Deshmukh