Just as Malayalam cinema seems to be constantly exploring toxic masculinity, Mohit Suri, too, has been doing the same over the years. Riteish Deshmukh in Ek Villain lashes out with gratuitous violence in response to the domestic abuse he faces. Saviour complex and gaslighting were explored in Hamaari Adhuri Kahaani. Aashiqui 2 features an alcoholic has-been grappling with identity issues. Remove the stylised layers, foot-tapping music, Greek God-like leads, and the crisp runtime, and most of Mohit Suri’s films are essentially explorations of toxic masculinity. Malang is no different. It ticks all the boxes in the Mohit Suri-checklist, but does little else.
As the title suggests, Malang is the story of two vagrants, Advait (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Sarah (Disha Patani), who find the peace and freedom they so desperately seek, in each other’s company. The reasons behind them accepting a nomadic lifestyle are not very convincing. However, Mohit, his motley group of composers, and the breathtaking visuals manage to keep us invested, albeit in short spurts. There is only so much empathy that a person toiling in a dreary 9-5 job can afford two ‘needy’ souls who, despite leaving their lives behind, can still afford an unlimited supply of adventure games, alcohol, beautiful homestays, and drugs... lots of them.
One of the most ingenious things in this otherwise template revenge film are the disclaimers that come whenever drug usage is shown, i.e. every tenth minute. Disclaimers like ‘Drugs kill pain, finally, the brain’ or ‘Drugs are roads to death’ or even ‘Don’t be insane, drugs ruin the brain’, distract us from the happenings on screen. And there is a lot that happens. For instance, there is Anil Kapoor having too much fun as the cocaine-snorting, karaoke-singing, rose-tinted-sunglasses-sporting, tattooed, rogue cop Anjaney Agashe training his guns on cop-killer Advait. His drug-induced trips are fun to watch not just for his display of anger, but also for his sardonic wit. Look at him blaming Dil Chahta Hai for Goa’s present state. Another standout performer is Kunal Kemmu, who, in a tailormade role, exudes silent aggression as the no-nonsense, rule-abiding cop with a tumultuous personal life.
However, what holds the entire film together is the presence of Sarah. Her choices determine the flow of the film. However, Disha plays it too one-note, and doesn’t lend the necessary gravitas. Aditya, meanwhile, is shown in all his splendour — he drops his shirt at the drop of a hat — but there is little else for him to do. While he is impressive as the brooding angry youngster, his cavalier approach makes the flashback portions more about his abs than his performance. Special mention, however, to Elli AvrRam for delivering an impressive performance in a convenient, yet affecting cameo.
While Malang doesn’t necessarily ‘unleash the madness’ as promised (it’s the film’s tagline), the proverbial twist in the tale does almost pull the rug out from under us. However, the emphasis on world development in the flashback takes away much-needed breathing space for the final act, which actually is an interesting commentary on what it takes to be a man. Is it enough if you have washboard abs? Is it enough if you are virile? Is it enough if you have a gun? A lot of such questions are asked, but Mohit underplays it to let the men take centre stage and unleash violence in the name of salvation. In Malayalam cinema, these portions would have been the central conceit of the film, but again, this is Bollywood... and Mohit Suri isn’t mad enough to unleash it all guns blazing.