Wild Dog by debutant Ahishor Solomon wastes no time to get to its core point. Inspired by true events, it opens with the 2010 German Bakery blast (renamed in the film), which sets up the introductory fight of swashbuckling National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer, Vijay Varma (Nagarjuna). The gun-fight is bloody, brutal, and massy sans the usual slow-motion shots.
When one of the officers takes a moment to think about whether to kill the terrorist on the other end, Vijay shoots the terrorist and says, “Champaka pothe chasthav (If you don’t kill, you’ll die).” This happens to be the only character illustration of his we get through the whole film, which derives its title from the epithet Vijay is awarded for his ferocious, gun-friendly nature.
However, post the introductory fight, we never see this ruthlessness again. While it’s understandable that his daughter’s death during the film’s recreation of the Gokul chat bombing would mellow him, the script tames him completely. The intent to keep the protagonist likable is a real problem. He is a killing machine, a father dealing with the death of his only daughter, a dedicated officer committed to bringing down terrorist organisations, but he is also the charming Nagarjuna.
The attempt to balance this stoic character with the endearing persona of the star acts as both a boon and a bane. Nagarjuna’s presence makes the film effortlessly watchable, but the consequent lightness of the character makes the film feel a tad simple and safe. While excessive melodrama is often deemed a show-spoiler, Wild Dog is one of those rare films that makes you wish some melodrama had been milked from the terrible real-life tragedies the screenplay is built around. In the opening scene, we see a young woman who was smiling a few moments ago, walk towards the camera and cry in anguish, having lost an arm in the bomb blast. It’s a fairly potent image.
We never see her again though. Yet another powerful moment comes when Vijay talks to a hospitalised survivor. We see a teardrop, mixed with blood from his injuries, running down his face. It’s the furthest the film goes to draw emotional investment. Otherwise, it’s all about guns, terrorists, and covert operations. There’s little to no time for drama. And so, we never truly comprehend the deadly situations these characters are frequently caught in nor find a way to care for them.
The one-line character sketches don’t help either. There’s Hashwanth (Pradeep), who’s ordered to join the operation when he on his honeymoon; Caleb, who’s having trouble finding a bride; Arya (Saiyami Kher), whose idea of an aggressive RAW agent is sporting a stone-faced look; and Ali (Ali Reza), who has an acting bug deep inside; and Rudra (Prakash Sudarshan); who has no notable feature. Barring Ali, whose character trait is expanded into an important plot point, none of them go beyond being functional in combat sequences. Likewise, Vijay’s wife, Priya (Dia Mirza), makes Yazhini from Vivegam and Anjali from Baby look like fully-fleshed characters.
It’s also impossible to overlook the fact that almost every wrong-doer in this story is a Muslim. Now, this could be a function of the screenplay drawing from real-life operations. And while the film does avoid actively portraying the community in a bad light, it also keeps from leveraging the good muslim cop at its disposal, making this yet another instance of the film playing it safe.
The writing is sharpest when it focuses on individual set pieces. The finely choreographed action ranges from hand-to-hand combat to shotgun showdowns. An extended sequence before the intermission built around the reveal of the antagonist, Khalid, does a great job at building the tension. We know that Vijay and his team will bring Khalid to justice, but the how of it keeps us guessing.
By the time the sequence ends on an abrupt note, we are on the edge of our seats. On the flipside, some of the dialogues are quite juvenile. When Vijay and his team realise their plans to nab the terrorist mastermind might have been leaked by an insider, Vijay helpfully says, “Our lives are in danger.” When an explosion sends Vijay into a trance-like state, we see him having a lovely time with his daughter.
She asks him what he’d do if someone hurts her, and Vijay replies, “I’ll kill everyone,” with his usual charm. Coming at a crucial juncture, the too-literal line irks. In all, Wild Dog is an honest attempt to tell the story of a brave officer and it manages to do it without drenching the story in nationalism, a hot cake at the moment. It should have been wilder though.
Cast: Nagarjuna Akkineni, Saiyami Kher, Dia Mirza
Director: Ahishor Solomon