We have been down this road before. Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak was always on TV: part-romance, partthriller, every bit a Taxi Driver knockoff as the 90s would take. It took the Jodie Foster plotline from the 1976 film and wove a Bollywood musical around it. It had great songs and — in Sadashiv Amrapurkar's Maharani — one of Hindi cinema’s greatest villains.
I rewatched parts of it recently, and it’s easy to see why the film soared in a decade of bright, fraught romances. Sadak 2, a grinding, embarrassing, unnecessary sequel, splices in scenes from the original movie.
But it does not honour their memory. In a throwback, we see Ravi (Sanjay Dutt) and Pooja (Pooja Bhatt) lean in for a kiss. Then the camera pulls back, revealing a greying, sleepless old man in bed. The idea, perhaps, was to make us feel the passage of time. What is achieved instead is something like a premonition: the first hint of the terrors to come.
Almost thirty years have passed between then and now. Ravi is now retired, having closed his shuttling business in the hills. Pooja is gone — or not quite; she speaks to him from time to time, smiling down from a framed black-and-white picture on the wall. It drives him nuts. He tries to kill himself, fails. When a young girl, Aarya (Alia Bhatt), comes knocking at his door, saying she has a booking to Kailash, Ravi throws her out. But she just won’t be told, and he soon relents.
Along the way, they pick up Aarya’s boyfriend (Aditya Roy Kapur) and drive out to Ranikhet, in the Himalayan foothills. With its picturesque route and bickering trio, Sadak 2 begins to resemble a Bollywood road comedy. Yet, this is no Piku, Karwaan or 3 Idiots.
Aarya is on the run from her family. Her father, a rich industrialist, has fallen in with a vicious godman (Makarand Deshpande). She holds ‘Guruji’ responsible for her mother’s death, and was leading an internet campaign against him when she was ambushed and falsely institutionalised.
She broke out promptly, and is en route to fulfill her mother’s last wish: to call in her 21st birthday in Kailash, the snowy abode of Lord Shiva. This is Mahesh Bhatt’s return as a director after two decades. His last film, Kartoos, was released in 1999. In the meantime, Bhatt has spawned a legacy of films under his banner, Vishesh Films. Sadak 2 feels like a culmination of all those styles: broody romance (Gangster, Aashiqui 2), campy thriller (Sangharsh, Murder), and even horror (the black-robed cultists look minted for the Raaz franchise).
Bhatt was once a social director, and Sadak 2 also wrestles with the thorny subject of blind faith. The result is a tonal mismatch that’s infuriating, like several roadblocks on a freeway. Also, on the topic of blind faith, it’s about time Bollywood writers stopped hedging their bets.
Aarya says she's determined to expose Guruji’s cult. Her campaign is called 'India Fights Fake Gurus', and while she distributes handbills and openly calls out her trolls, she is very much a believer at heart. "God is on our side," she shouts at a thug. "On this street". Which would still be fine, but then she pushes it in one scene.
Trying to get Ravi’s mind off suicide, she blabbers something about life being a divine gift — the kind of silly platitude that gets thrown around as mental health advice. Alia Bhatt suffers in an inadequate role. The plot, twisting and turning every ten minutes, severely limits her scope.
The film bases its action on the emotional pull between Aarya and Ravi. It’s a simple ploy: James Goldman’s Logan and the video-game The Last of Us remain masterworks in the genre.
Sanjay Dutt tries to bring both menace and heart, but is weighed down by scrappy fight scenes and hammy lines. The biggest letdown, still, is the villain: Makarand Deshpande abruptly throwing his hands up in the air, as though surrendering to invisible cops. Sadak 2 rides its luck and ends up short. The roads were plenty to a worthy sequel. This one, though, is a dead-end.