Being from the Mahesh Bhatt school of filmmaking, Mohit Suri does one thing very well. He knows how to inflict extreme pain on his characters, both emotionally and physically. It’s a familiar arc of one cheerful character (usually the female) and one dark brooding variety (the male) influencing each other. Suri may lack the talent and deft touches but he can create a similar mood. But he doesn’t stay with it or let it linger long enough for its full impact.
He does share another Bhatt fixation. That of being inspired from films around the world. You can call it inspiration or you may call it a rip off and after all both Godard and Jarmusch suggest that you can steal from anywhere and everywhere. The point is to go for authenticity and not originality. Suri does not always succeed in this department. The chosen source materials are not always conducive for his affectations and lose their thematic core in his Indianizing ways. Ek Villain borrows liberally from Korean film I Saw the Devil with an arc of redemption thrown in for good measure that messes it up in many ways.
For the love story and redemption angle Suri resorts to the cliche of the joyful good-natured character suffering from terminal illness. It doesn’t help that the Sharaddha Kapoor role is not only written badly but she’s equal parts annoying. She comes in contact with Guru (Siddharth Malhotra) who is introduced to us as the devil incarnate himself and therein lies the problem with this film. I Saw the Devil, true to its name dealt with pure evilness. It was viscerally affecting in its depiction of violence and its characters. While Suri begins with a similar theme he has to tone things down several notches. To his credit, he is much more liberal with the other character, that of Rakesh Mahadkar played by Riteish Deshmukh with a quiet menace alternating with ease between his personalities. He is a different person to the outside world but in his home and in his workplace he rambles with his tail between his legs. He is incompetent, his boss doesn’t respect him and his wife questions his manhood. What more, the door sign in his own home does not read Rakesh Mahadkar. It reads Sulochana Mahadkar, the name of his wife. This character is a cliche too but it is subverted by the writing and the performance that’s absent elsewhere. A perfectly cast creep in Kamaal R Khan doesn’t go a long way in helping proceedings.
This is a film that needed mood and atmosphere especially when all hell breaks loose in the latter half. Instead we get a revenge saga that’s not even half engaging. It becomes an underwhelming cat and mouse chase that only goes around in circles. At least Mohit Suri is blessed with another Bhatt fixation. The songs in his films can be addictive and almost always rise above the film. Their usage though is a different matter.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)