LICH rating: (3 / 5)
There’s a scene in India’s Most Wanted, written and directed by Raj Kumar Gupta (he of the earlier pulse-pounding Aamir, the gritty and visceral No One Killed Jessica, the Coenish Ghanchakkar, among others) when anti-terrorist squad agent Prabhat (Arjun Kapoor) is led into a narrow, claustrophobic lane in Kathmandu by his informant, Dost (friend), played by Jitendra Shastri. It’s the first time they’re meeting after months of collaboration, and the maverick agent and his maverick team don’t know if Dost’s trustworthy. The other team members lose sight of Prabhat and panic sets in. And in this lane is where two agents from Prabhat’s team—Javed (Devendra Mishra) and Manish (Pravin Singh Sisodia)—enter and spot their man. The relief’s obvious but subterfuge is critical, and they all pass by each other, registering but not giving away anything either.
That scene’s a rare highlight in a true story that this enterprise narrates, of the nine-man team that sets out to capture ‘India’s Osama Bin Laden’ Yusuf (Sudev Nair)—in real life the Indian Mujahideen terrorist Yasin Bhatkal. And in bringing together this intelligence thriller, it misses out on what has to be a key ingredient in such a story: the nuanced motives of all concerned. Here, Prabhat has insipid banter with his boss Rajesh Singh (Rajesh Sharma), all of which involves the latter’s wife and the former’s saucy online SMS stalker. When, amidst devastating bombings across India—director Gupta using them as stupor-shaking punctuations—Prabhat receives information about a possible terrorist-spotting in Kathmandu, he’s all ablaze to get set go from Patna. Singh, however, is tied down by chains that are hued red and strung by pension.
It is here that Prabhat begins mouthing his love for the country again and again—he uses it as a plea, as a bargaining chip, and as a ticket to the hilly kingdom. His rag tag team tags along, and they chip in their own money after going through the tropes of wife-nagging and scowling. Here’s where the movie flags down again. It doesn’t probe the motivations of these agents, misses the spice and crackle in their dialogues, nor does it set up a tensile mapping between the informant and Prabhat; even Prabhat’s lonely, book-shelves lined room calls out for a story, but there’s only the echo of a miss. There’s staid calls, a phase when Dost doesn’t pick up his cell, and all the agents can do is keep calling. This reminds me of services in Bangalore—where, you call a carpenter and he speaks to you once, then refuses to take your incoming. All you can do is sullenly keep calling and getting frustrated. There’s more tension there than in the movie at this point. (If you can’t through to me, now you know what I’m up to.)
The movie does pick up tension and pace in the second half when ISI agents begin to converge into the kingdom capital, and this is where Amit Trivedi‘s background score—more insistent and louder than necessary, but trying to pump up your adrenaline—probably to make up for the lack of intelligence machinations and throbbing tension—starts making sense. His highlight arrives when he adds lazy mischief to a scene where Pakistani agents are stopped by what is ostensibly a contingent of border police. There’s so much of swirling jazz melody and accordion lilt and fun in this piece, I wish it’d gone on longer.
As the lead protagonist, even as he mouths staid lines, Arjun Kapoor gets his lowered eye-lid, straight laced act perfectly, adding an effective, joyless heft to his character. Unfortunately for him—and you—India’s Most Wanted is more joyless than heft.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
India’s Most Wanted is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s some violence, a GSW to the head, and photos of bomb blasts.
India’s Most Wanted
Director Raj Kumar Gupta Running Time 2h 3min
Writer Raj Kumar Gupta
Stars Arjun Kapoor, Jitendra Shastri, Devendra Mishra, Pravin Singh Sisodia, Sudev Nair, Rajesh Sharma, Prashanth Alexander
Genres Action, Thriller