It’s been a year of smackdown movies. Back in March, Godzilla and Kong tore up the world. Then came Venom: Let There Be Carnage, with its dual symbiotes. Closer home, if you’re the masochist type, you can watch John Abraham battle himself in Satyameva Jayate 2. Or you may not. For the truly valiant viewer, there’s a whole new bout in town.
Aayush Sharma, brother-in-law of Salman Khan, made his debut in the 2018 musical Loveyatri. The film was produced by Salman, but clearly that wasn’t enough. So now he must step into the ring. The role Salman has, in Mahesh Manjrekar’s Antim: The Final Truth, is a dual one: he must back Aayush up while also bringing him down. To decode the film’s logic, a family that bleeds together, stays together.
Aayush plays Rahul, a violent village boy who migrates to Pune with his family. There, his father takes up hard manual work at the city’s Market Yard. This is not a life Rahul sees for himself, subsisting on crumbs and letting middlemen and thugs push them around. “I’ll eat the whole thali,” he announces proudly. “With sweet dish.” So he falls in with gangsters, gladly – and gleefully – killing a few to become the Bhai of Pune.
That’s a title screaming out for a comeback. It materializes in the form of Rajveer, a Sikh cop played by Salman. The actor had last draped a turban in Heroes (2008), mostly in military green. In Antim, he gets to try on red, blue and khaki variants. What’s more touching, though, is his decision to swap out the bracelet, ditching it for a sharp, shiny kara. As for his accent, that’s just asking too much. He slips from Hindi to Punjabi without the slightest change in texture or pitch. “Oye tu fikar na kar” lands as flatly as “humare haath bandhe hue hai (our hands are tied)”.
Antim is a remake of the 2018 Marathi hit Mulshi Pattern, with the cop character played up. What is originally a gritty gangster story is dressed up as campy Bollywood fare. The film is concerned with big themes—land-grabbing, the abuse and exploitation of farmers in Maharashtra—but also plays as a bro-on-bro deathmatch. Its primary focus is Rahul, whose descent into crime and hedonism is held against the humble appeals of his father. Yet Manjrekar isn’t quite interested in a character study. He indulges Rahul throughout, giving us a villain to root for (Vaastav, Manjrekar’s first Hindi film, never tipped that way).
Aayush cuts an odd figure between Jesse Pinkman and a young Sanjay Dutt. This is his show, sprinting and snickering and shooting enemies in the chest. Salman, of course, knows this, and has to deliberately subordinate himself in scenes (it doesn’t work—since Manjrekar knows he’s making a Salman Khan film and has to at least deliver the goods). The ensuing tension leaves little room for anyone else. Upendra Limaye, who was the cop in Mulshi Pattern, is now a gangster — says something about Bollywood remakes — and Jissu Sengupta’s tapodi accent never leaves Tollygunj.
My favourite, by far, is Sachin Khedekar as Rahul’s father. Receiving his son after a hard day’s work, his hunched shoulders drop even further. Rahul says he’s changing his ways, that the future is looking bright. “I’m joining politics,” he informs. Sachin’s expression in the scene is to die for. “Go on, son!” he appears to scream. “Do me proud.”
|Movie: Antim: The Final Truth
Cast: Salman Khan, Aayush Sharma, Mahima Makwana, Sachin Khedekar
Director: Mahesh Manjrekar