If nothing else, director-actor Ajay Devgn’s chaotic universe in his latest outing—where he performs the arduous task of spearheading both roles—is a bone-crunching lesson in the human anatomy. If Bholaa had a punchline, it’d be A study in human body joints and 201 ways to break them. If it had put in as many words on its screenplay sheets as it does the extras onscreen who come rushing in like infected zombies from World War Z, it might have made some sense amidst the assault. Instead, the screen—and the night the action unfolds—is filled with fierce warriors who look anachronistic and desperately need a shave+shower or both.
In retelling the 2019 Tamil movie Kaithi, director Devgn with writers Aamil Keeyan Khan, Ankush Singh, Sandeep Kewlani, and Shridhar Dubey does sew in some sinew in the first half, where, despite yourself, you begin to fret about the safety of its key players who kick-start the night long session of pulverizing human flesh: Cop Diana Joseph—played by Tabu with regular tautness, never mind if it looks as if she waltzed from the dreary Kuttey right into this massacre—who headlines a drug bust against the Sikka gang, hauling in thou-mil dollars’ worth of coke and the gang head, Nithari (Vineet Kumar) into the rather heritage-structure-worthy Laalganj police station. But Narcotics Control Bureau officer Devraj Subramaniam (Gajraj Rao with a strained South Indian accent) has other plans and uses Charles Sobhraj’s time-tested method to down the police force at IG Jayant Mallik’s (Kiran Kumar) farewell soiree. Diana, naturally, leans in on a mysterious prisoner who’s been released from prison —and who’s obviously Bholaa (Ajay Devgn)— to transport the entire downed force in a truck to the Laalganj precinct. Logistically, this ask makes no sense. Rectitude-wise, it does. Plot-wise, it’s the only sliver that adds to the tension. Add Nithari’s younger brother, Ashu, who, on being tipped off this scheme, activates all those gangs who garner so much screen space, and, as it turns out, are volunteers for the orthopedic trauma lessons that follow shortly.
Deepak Dobriyal plays Ashu, and at first glance, I did a double take—the actor’s a dead-ringer for choreographer Terence Lewis. I thought it was the dancer’s debut in the Snarl India Snarl show. Quickly disabused of that notion, it seemed like the very talented Dobriyal is now channeling his psycho-verse: especially if you’ve also seen his act in the series Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo (Disney+ Hotstar), which now serves as a twin accompaniment on his résumé, a double-engine if you will: he quivers, abuses, grimaces, and indulges in all manner of violence and drugs. Also, the dialogue writers ensure that Ashu stretches the homophonic joke of Diana and daayan (witch) to unbearably offensive levels. Anyhoos, Bholaa drives the truck, is betrayed by a Judas in the force, and performs action sequences that quickly segue from the entertaining to the eww, and director Devgn, actor Devgn, and action master R.P. Yadav ensure you see the splitting of joints in slo-mo: what’s the point of all that pounding if you don’t get to appreciate every crack and split as Bholaa uses various forms of instruments and airborne flights to perform these nasty, blood-and-flesh-spilling procedures.
Cinematographer Aseem Bajaj uses extensive and fast-paced dolly shots and adds a grimacing texture to the goings-on—the night sequences are stunning, and the truck lights and fires bounce off the dark sheets like random, fiery splashes of paint that trickle into an inky one-way canvas—but there’s only so far that action can take you, and that you can take. Which also means that above-average performances by Amir Khan (playing Kadchi, a cook who gets roped into the nocturnal road trip) and Sanjay Mishra (constable Angad Yadav, who, along with a bunch of hassled youngsters, is tasked with sealing the Laalganj station’s breaches as Ashu and gang approach without—also some of the movie’s best scenes here) fall by the wayside, trampled by increasingly violent acts.
By the time Devgn—a master of the sullen and silent act—picks up an M134 Minigun and goes bonkers, you feel little invested in his Bholaa, his waiting daughter Jyoti (Hirva Trivedi), and their past. The movie feels like one of those horrifying late 80s through 90s Hindi action blitzkriegs that made a meal of your senses and ticket prices. As you’re ready to hobble away from the screen, having earned your doctor’s degree in ortho-damage, wondering about the entire raison d’être of Bholaa, you streaming it, and a lost weekend, you realize the subject demands more studying. There’s the threat of a sequel. The good news? Your super-specialization in bone-cracking is a year away.
Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Bholaa is streaming on Prime Video and rated A (For Adults only) for all the blows it serves up as entertainment.
Director Ajay Devgn Time 2h 24min
Writers Aamil Keeyan Khan, Ankush Singh, Sandeep Kewlani, Shridhar Dubey
Stars Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Deepak Dobriyal, Amir Khan, Sanjay Mishra
Genres Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Thriller