Sonakshi Sinha is tired of your criticism. She is tired of those constant barrage of admonishments almost ordering her to let go of the mass-y, South Indian remakes that have her only as eye-candy and to appear in a couple of songs matching steps with the hero – the only reason the movie even exists. She has had enough of it. She won’t take it lying down anymore. So what does she do? Follow the steps of those in Bollywood who’ve chosen scripts with more care in recent years? Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Alia Bhatt or even Sonam Kapoor? No. Sinha will stay within her roots but she’ll now become the reason the movie exists. She is the mass hero. She needs no eye candy or a song and dance. She’ll now be in a remake of a Tamil film and be the central character. Your move.
A.R Murugadoss takes up Santha Kumar’s 2011 hit Mouna Guru and puts his regular stamp over it. Mouna Guru was more of a character study. A misunderstood, short-tempered loner thrown into the centre of a corrupt cops’ conspiracy. Murugadoss is somewhat of a hit and miss kind of a director. He has moments in his work that give hope and at times he can be frustrating and watered down. Both kinds show up in Akira. He eschews the character study part of Mouna Guru and makes it a louder, action-heroine-centric film. A micro story becomes a macro one. This is not always a bad thing. He gives more background to Akira (Sonakshi Sinha) than what we got in Santha Kumar’s original film. Murugadoss is great at building those mass moments. Like the one where a students protest turns into police lathi charge and tear gas situation with Akira squatting peerless on the middle of the road (The only unconvincing part here is the setting of Mumbai – a college with student strikes and protests. Another city would have made more sense?). Or the one where the kid Akira fights a bunch of roadside serial harassers. Or even the way her escape is filmed in the second half. The staging in Akira lifts the film considerably.
Some impressive foreshadowing is exercised in Akira. A flirtatious banter involving phone and charger becomes an important deduction at a crime scene. A dilapidated church is mentioned at the beginning of the film simply as something that needs donations for its renovation but later becomes the setting for a second half set-piece. A kleptomaniac is revealed in an off-hand manner but we don’t notice it until much later. Murugadoss comes up with a number of wonderful shots and set pieces but he never holds on to them long enough to make an impact. In the beginning, during Akira’s training, there is a superb shot of her practicing on temple tops but it disappears in a second. A place where she secretly interrogates a cop looks like she’s in a place surrounded by mosques. And then we have the church. Murugadoss has all this at his disposal but then being too much of a commercial filmmaker, plot is what interests him. He wants to rush through so many things and not care for some of the egregious plot turns the film takes in the second half. Not that these things matter in a film like Akira but they become an “if only” situation concerning the merits of the film.
“If only” because the film could have talked about so many things and that too within the confines of the commercial extravaganza – unlike Mouna Guru. This is mainly because of the gender switch that has happened between the films. On paper, it looks like a gimmick, it may very well be a gimmick on screen too but the possibilities of reading into it are endless. Akira is described as graceful strength in Sanskrit. The men on the street harassing women at the bus stop agitate her. For a small town, she is raised “like a boy”. As the girls of Jodhpur take dance classes, Akira signs up for martial arts. The situation gets so serious that she is sent to a remand home as a juvenile. Akira has always been the queer in every institution she’s tried to belong to – in her town, at home, in family, in college. She is looked down upon or bullied or misunderstood in each of those institutions. Akira talks about how even her family won’t try to understand or trust her. This is where one misses the concerns of the original film. A lot of scenes were built around the central character’s family and his alienation but we don’t get that here in a big way. The only character even willing to empathize with her is Sid (Amit Sadh), who does social work at an NGO. This is further reinforced by the friendship she forges in the asylum she is forcibly signed into – the same person also helps her plan her escape and revenge. Add to this the compelling if underutilized Fargo homage (along with the stash of cash) in Konkona Sen Sharma’s pregnant cop investigating a crime.
But Murugadoss falls back on familiar narratives and the ending is a bit of a downer. Suddenly we are told it is a national issue and there could be riots. Yes, we know Murugadoss is Shankar’s protege and can never make a film that is impressive without noise but just like Akira’s life, the film spirals into chaos by the end. It is not only unconvincing but also undoes a lot of the good done by the film till that point. Sonakshi Sinha returns to a variation of her role in her debut film Dabangg. Or at least she plays it that way. She’s very convincing in all the action moments and her eyes do a ton of the work in these portions of the film. But in the second half, the dramatic turns affect Sinha in the similar fashion they affect the film. Anurag Kashyap as the corrupt ACP Rane has a lot of fun and chuckles his way through this turn as a slimy, take no prisoners avatar – very similar to what John Vijay did in the Tamil version. No other character impacts the film or even makes an impression. No matter the quality of the film, Akira already has the line of the year uttered by Bollywood’s enfant terrible, Anurag Kashyap, as he smokes up – achcha maal hai, South ka lagta hai.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)