Ajay Devgn steps in to direct and play the lead in the Hindi remake of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s 2019 Tamil thriller Kaithi, that starred Karthi. In 2023, Bholaa is a 3D reimagining of the heavy-duty action film with amped up low-grade computer graphics and a breathless body count.
Bholaa is a convict released from jail after serving a 10-year sentence. His mission is to be reunited with his daughter, who is housed in an orphanage. But a chance meeting with police officer Diana (Tabu) derails his plans. She’s confiscated a huge haul of drugs, invoking the ire of the villainous and crazed Ashu (Deepak Dobriyal, over-styled and overdone). With no way out of a dire situation, she enlists Bholaa’s help to drive the truck to the police station. Along with them is a catering hand-turned-navigator, Kadchi. In a running gag, Bholaa refers to him as various kitchen implements.
The film now unfolds in a number of zones such as the drug lord’s den, where he puts a huge bounty on ‘daayan’, a wicked nickname for Diana. The scene triggers a John Wick-style network of goons, who manage to track down the truck in the remotest of locations, forcing Bholaa to single handedly fight them. In another zone, a child is awaiting her mystery visitor. A power broker is pulling strings from the safety of his home office. An abandoned police station, with a clutch of convicts, four wayward students and one aging constable (Sanjay Mishra) is the final site, where all the elements will collide.
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The screenplay (there are a number of writing credits) is confusing and chaotic with choppy timelines. The background music underscores every emotion and drowns out most scenes. There’s one wholly dispensable item number. However, the centrepiece of the film is not the story or the songs but the action scenes, which have a video game-like quality to them. Devgn revels in these. The guns are set aside, but knives, a trident and found objects become the weapons when he is assaulted by, among others, a gang dressed solely in boxer shorts, or another gang that shows up in the jungle with a leopard.
The finale has tonal and action design references that give a World War Z meets Mad Max: Fury Road feel. But Devgn takes on each battle scene with a smoulder and scars intact. The 3D adds little to the experience, besides further darkening the visuals. As the purposeful cop Tabu is a fine balance to Bholaa’s intensity, but it’s a role that didn’t require an actress of Tabu’s competence. with Amir Khan bringing in humour and humanity as Kadchi. Dobriyal has his moments as the lip-smacking baddie with a nose-full of snow. Gajraj Rao’s character’s mixed accent is jarring and Ashu’s brother Nithari, played by Vineet Kumar, is too much of a low budget Hannibal Lechter.
Bholaa’s myth is revealed by some secondary characters who ominously declare things like ‘whenever he appears there is war’ and ‘when he spreads ash on himself, he turns people to ash’. Bholaa reveals his own back story later, building in a courtship (a cameo by Amala Paul) and the introduction to a post-apocalyptic adversary, which sets up a sequel. Maybe that will rely less on Devgn’s action hero image and invest time and energy on a solid story and memorable supporting characters too.
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