Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Priyanka Chopra, Jaya Bachchan
Director: Goldie Behl
Runtime: 173 min. (citation needed)
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure
The deal between Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and Reliance industries couldn’t possibly dream of a grander catalyst than Drona, which just might be the big-budgeted blockbuster that Hindi film industry has been waiting since long. This is one gorgeous extravaganza where everything that director Goldie Behl could summon by way of his imagination has been painted, and often thrown onto the screen, and then the languid pace of the film feels as if it is reveling in that moment of glory. This is an epic spectacle, a fantastical showdown between forces as apparent as a white good and a black evil the kind of which we haven’t had in many a year. This isn’t one of those false superhero films where a hick thrust with superpowers from an alien source is confused between wooing his lady love by way of dancing, and running and flying all over the place. The stakes are high, and boy, what a glorious visual treat it is. And if it fails woefully in addressing smaller issues in doing that, such as for instance the clunky nature of the plot overall, I have no complains whatsoever.
Drona feels like that rare adventure film that is believable although it is set in a real world. It is ridden with fantasy, there is sorcery, there’re swords and there’re cars. And they’re all seamlessly woven into a tale that travels many lands, providing breathtaking sights and moments. At its heart lay that much sought relic churned out in that most famous of all chapters of the Indian mythology – the jar of amrit. The Gods had hidden much of the millions of the artifacts churned out of the ocean in the deepest corners of the universe, and to keep the amrit safe from the Asuras, they chose Earth. To protect it there was chosen a great warrior who was named Drona. And ever since, the lineage has borne the responsibility. We’re given all this information even before the title appears, and it is all via images lush with color and whose magnificence made me to wonder how good a comic book series based on the same might turn out. After having seen the film, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
We meet young Aditya who’s much mistreated by his foster mother, his aunt actually. His uncle though knows better, and knows the special place this boy has in the greater scheme of things. These are a stretch of sequences that are terribly contrived, they are constructed hopelessly, and the dialogs that are spoken might sink you in despair. More so after that promising introduction. Much of the problem that the film has lay in the initial half hour where the shadow of Harry Potter looms large and we see the film try desperately to convey us the sadness and loneliness that surrounds an older Aditya played by an uninspired Abhishek Bachchan. It is these smaller things I spoke of earlier, and it feels as if the film doesn’t have its heart in it. They feel like a vestigial limb, shot tackily and attached obligatorily, and if there’s any purpose to them it is to take us to the part where the film gets big. Real big. And here, the film acquires a great form of its own, when the villain, an asura named Riz Raizada in his quest for the amrit meets and recognizes Aditya as the true Drona. Their fates locked since time immemorial, and the chase for that jar of immortality turns into a juggernaut of gigantic and wildly imaginative set-pieces and props, and they just keep rolling on. Much like the Indiana Jones films only that this time it is a lot more serious.
I have always been a firm believer that a great action is great because it hasn’t been presented in slow-mo. Kinetics is a much important part of the overall experience and the sheer exhilaration which results from viewing things move fast and furious is irreplaceable to me. That is not to be seen in Drona, and that is a problem for me. Not for you. But tell you what, an action scene in real-time has the feel of reality, and one in slow-mo as here might feel from a land of fantasy. Drona curiously might be a bit of both, and how it achieves it is something I would want to study on the second viewing I have planned for me this weekend. And to savor that especially long and ambitious chase scene that involves a train and a horse and is a wonder to behold just because someone had the audacity to conceive and realize it. I’m sure there wasn’t any CGI involved, and it feels like one of the great action sequence of our times. There was utter silence in the hall for what seemed like a good ten minutes, and I’m sure there were many a dropped jaws. Mine included. There’s an action sequence at the end which in a moment of glorious preposterousness has Drona and his bodyguard Sonia hang arm in arm doting each other while they fight off the evil force. And the feat to applaud here is that it doesn’t feel out of place or out of tone. I would recommend a studio executive from Hollywood to see the film and learn the fact that movie-making is much more of an economical proposition in India, and an investment might result in great imagination being channeled into a great vision. For instance, there’s a remarkable prop in the middle of the desert constructed of stone and that has been envisioned as homage to chakravyuha. It is a shame nothing’s done with it, and it disappears out of sight in a whimper. An executive with a trained eye might have sensed the opportunity at hand.
Director Goldie Behl previously made Bas Itna sa Khwab Hai, and I wonder if he’s gravitated by stories involving individuals. Drona might offer the premise of a world whose fate hangs in balance, but there aren’t many civilians to speak of. We don’t see people, and the landscape is often filled by only the principal characters. I do not know what to make of it, but the resident feeling within me is of a barren and lonely world. Does it externalize the inner fears of Drona? I have no idea, and if it were not for the last frame, the film might well have been interpreted as the fantasies and dreams of a lonely man. An orphan. Behl is clumsy and when it comes to the insecurities of the young Drona he might not imagine beyond the very obvious, but he wraps that cliché later on in such a great visual imagery that we find it altogether novel. The beauty about Abhishek Bachchan’s performance is that he gives the character a subdued and vulnerable touch and adds great determination to them which doesn’t feel false, unlike the film’s initial few missteps. There’re doppelgangers in both camps, both internal and external, some mastered and some enslaved. I was reminded of The Prestige, and an evil force who is so narcissistic so as to surround himself with versions of his own self, and so evil so as to then destroy it with great disdain fascinates me. Kay Kay is a good actor but his move to overplay the villain fails terribly. It feels he’s trying to much and without understanding the character, and that there’s a certain obligation that is driving his performance. One that believes an actor has to be loud in a fantasy film. Something inside me is making me imagine Irfaan Khan in the role, and what a great villain he would have been.
Behl’s film doesn’t have any subtexts and everything to be realized is there on the screen to be seen. He does goof up on the small bits which often are so bad they are downright laughable. But that is because his heart and his eyes are somewhere else. A friend of mine who shared my anticipation for the film asked me to describe it briefly, without sharing too much of by way of the plot. I told him it was loud it was flashy it was often cheesy it was often dumb it was fantastic and it was everything we expected. It was long and I wouldn’t have minded to stay for another half hour. And I would have consumed much more of that breathtaking view of the desert and sea colliding into a horizon of their own. I’m not sure but I think we might have a first of sorts here – an epic swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. And it might have not arrived at a more opportune time.
Note: As I searched for an image to attach alongside I review I learned that a comic book adaptation was in fact being released, an image of which could be found at http://movies.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3541444.cms. And downloads regarding the same could be found at http://downloads.movies.indiatimes.com/drona/drona.html. This looks like something I would be one of the buyers of for sure.