In every Tiger Shroff film, there’s an exchange so weird it stands out from all the regular bad writing piled up around it. In Ganapath, written and directed by Vikas Bahl, it’s just before the climatic MMA bout starts. Shroff’s opponent eyeballs him and menacingly bites off a chilli pepper. “I’m going to eat you up,” he says. Shroff’s response: “Good boy.”
It wasn’t that long ago Shroff’s legion of fans would also eat this up. But things might be changing. Next year will be a decade since Heropanti, during which time Shroff has been in one great film, a couple that didn't reinvent the wheel but were good fun, and a lot of unmitigated trash. Apart from War, there’s no indication that Shroff seeks out good films or that he knows what one might look like. Ganapath is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Shroff—twirly kicks, spinning kicks, a lot of dancing and silly comedy, some kind of hidden life revelation, more pirouetting kicks. It has its moments but the act is getting dangerously old. Tiger needs to change his stripes.
In the post-apocalyptic world of this film, the rich live in the futuristic Silver City. The masses are so downtrodden their tenements don’t even have a name—it’s simply called ‘gareebon ki basti’. They’re kept out of the city by a wall, starved, hounded by drones, and kept in a state of fear and subjugation. At first glance, Guddu (Shroff) would appear to be one of their oppressors. He’s a rich playboy (though his tapori-speak reveals his humble origins) and scout for evil impresario Johnny Englishman, who organizes MMA tournaments for the city’s wealthy patrons (the poor have their own tournament). But since Amitabh Bachchan shows up every 15 minutes muttering about a warrior who will lead them out of the dark, we know it’s a matter of time before Guddu is revealed as the chosen one, Ganapath.
Playing Trinity to Shroff’s Neo is Kriti Sanon as Jassi, complete with leather suit and motorcycle. Blind martial arts master Shiva (Rashin Rahman) is a Morpheus of sorts, whom Guddu is told to seek out when he’s expelled from the city for reasons as contrived as the ones he’s later brought back for. Shiva is running a secret resistance in the mountains. Guddu is taught to be a fighter and learn some humility—in one of these he’s successful.
There’s some Hunger Games in this film, and a lot of Fury Road (so much that Guddu guiltily namechecks Mad Max). The promise of civil war is teased throughout Ganapath, but it’s difficult to care because the film has no interest in anyone other than its lead character. None of the slumdwellers have any agency of their own, they only suffer and wait for a hero. Jassi is introduced as a nunchuk-weilding badass but is soon reduced to a spectator as Guddu and the appropriately named Tabahi pound each other while insisting “My girl”. The film just sits around and waits for Shroff to get serious, which happens in the last 10 minutes.
Making everything much worse is the awful VFX. The backdrops are so jarring and unrealistic that Shroff looks like a hologram in front of them. It’s either arrogance or delusion on the part of the makers to think that audiences today would accept bad video game graphics in a big franchise film (it's billed as ‘part one’). It’s also annoying how little care has gone into creating a credible world. When Shiva’s hideout is discovered, why don’t the city militia finish them off then and there? If Jassi can easily clear the wall on her bike, why has it been such an effective barrier?
Even Shroff seems to know he's reached the end of his branch. “It gets tough to reinvent myself in this space,” he said in an interview this week. When he’s in full flight, he’s still in a league of his own in Hindi cinema (Vidyut Jammwal is a match, but in a lower rung of star). Shroff badly needs a change, and a challenge. A simple fix might be to pit himself against opponents of repute instead of talented, unknown stuntpersons. Bring in Iko Uwais or Scott Adkins. Make it a real fight.