‘Rocky Handsome’ Review: Knock on Wood

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Question: What is the difference between watching director Nishikant Kamat’s Rocky Handsome and a visit to the dentist? The answer, unfortunately, is a well-rounded zilch.

You go to the dentist to get a problem fixed.  You go to the movie to get a fix.

The dentist eases you into a chair. The usher shows you your chair.

The dentist starts his drill machine. Kamat starts his movie.

You grip the dentist’s chair in fear. You grip the movie seat arm-rest in anticipation.

The dentist begins his procedure and you suffer. Kamat throws Rocky Handsome at you and you suffer.

At the end of the procedure, you’re in pain. At the end of Rocky Handsome, you’re in pain.

Which is a terrible thing to happen, really, considering Nishikant Kamat’s record. A searing, middle class angst that exploded into violence (Dombivli Fast, later Evano Oruvan in Tamil); a gripping collage of valence characters who lives were turned upside down after the 11th July 2006 bomb blasts in Mumbai (Mumbai Meri Jaan); a horrifying and superb action drama of a Narcotics Bureau officer versus a venomous villain (Force); an out and out spicy offering of revenge and look-alike characters (Lai Bhaari); a haunting family complot to weasel their way out of a murder (Drishyam).

And now this. Based on the Korean film, The Man From Nowhere  (full disclosure – I haven’t watched the original), Kamat, aided by writer Ritesh Shah, throws you into dark, rainy Goa. And you’re introduced to hulky, world weary Rocky Handsome (John Abraham, who also produced the movie with Sunil Khetrapal). It’s obvious to you that Handsome has a past and you’re as sure as you are that the popcorn tub in your hands is overpriced, that Kamat will reveal all in due course of time. And he does. But first, you must also meet now-front-tooth-missing-now-not child, Naomi (Baby Diya Chalwad) and her drug-addled mother, Anna (Nathalia Kaur). The former mouths some seat-squirming precocious lines that make you sigh in relief that you’re not Handsome, who has to listen to them. Handsome, as is John Abraham’s wont, doesn’t flinch. The mother is a dancer at a local club, and when she’s not looking stunningly gorgeous and lip-syncing Rock tha party, she’s snorting and injecting, while Naomi seeks solace in their neighbor, Handsome’s pawn shop-cum-home.

Baby Diya Chalwad - warning, precocious baby aboard
Baby Diya Chalwad: warning, precocious baby onboard

Very quickly, things spin out of control, the mother and daughter are kidnapped by a drug mafia, and you’re hoping that this is the beginning of some gripping drama and action.  There’s a rescue mission to be executed, there’s the drugs angle, there’s local cops hot in pursuit of the mafia. There’s some good fun in the detectives’ team – headlined by Anti-Narcotics Bureau cop Dilip Sangodkar (Sharad Kelkar) – and an almost funny moment when Sangodkar and his aide stumble upon a body in the pawn shop.  As Handsome converges into the drug don, Mantoo (Uday Tikekar), he collides with the cops, and predictably, they begin to spotlight their investigation on our mysterious hero.

In the meanwhile, you’re also introduced to other villains – brothers Kevin Pereira (played by Nishikant Kamat himself) and Luke Ferriera (Teddy Maurya) and their perfect killer, Atilla (Kazu Patrick Tang).  Kamat also throws in a child trafficking angle that’s headed by Carla Aunty (Suhasini Mulay), and you pretty much have the whole setup for this venture.

John Abraham - knifely done
John Abraham: knifely done

And the problem begins with the goons. It almost seems as if the director wanted to doff his hat to the baddies of late 1980s-early 1990s Bollywood – take a bow, General Dong and Prince Kow from Tahalka, Deenbandhu Deenanath from Hukumat, and others in a list as long as the ailments in the Merck Manual. You know where Kamat’s going with this, don’t you? Rocky Handsome has some of the most grating and perniciously loud actors you’d have seen this side of the century.  And leading the decibel brigade is Teddy Maurya, who growls, shouts, blabbers, screams, and does just about everything else so high on the volume level that you’re worried he’ll burst a vein, even as you try and ignore your pain.

Giving very tough competition to Maurya is the background score by Sunny Bawra and Inder Bawra, which has no room for subtlety. It’s as if the Bawras laid their hands on every instrument near the recording studio and then recorded a cacophonic mix that’ll make you wince and have the true meaning of Hobson’s choice hammer your ear drums – Teddy Maurya or the Bawra brand of music?

Nishikant Kamat - you'll roll your eyes
Nishikant Kamat: you’ll roll your eyes

Which then makes you turn to John Abraham. (Never mind Shruti Haasan’s special appearance.) Rocky Handsome is Kamat’s BFF gift to Abraham, as he lovingly careens the camera over the actor’s marvellously sculpted body.  And John Abraham is simply astounding in the action sequences. The fight in the men’s rest room is superb. (Yes, we men are primal like that. We like to knock off each other’s teeth in all kinds of places. But for a truly eye-widening, jaw-dropping hand-to-hand combat in a bath, do not miss the stunning Eastern Promises. ) When the mother-daughter pair are hauled off in a vehicle, his sprint toward the speeding away SUV is a treat to watch. And the highlight is the climactic knife fight between John Abraham and Kazu Patrick Tang. This fight is preceded by the former decimating an army of baddies and he actually does it so well, using believable gore and an unbelievable knifing technique that’d make any Michelin chef see stars. In his fight with Tang, Abraham is all grace, sinew, and a hard-wired warrior prince. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll be awestruck at just how good the actor is. The problem is, by this time, you’re all exhausted and weary with the loudness and mind-numbing plot that Kamat has thrown at you so far.

John Abraham - shoot to still
John Abraham: shoot to still

And despite his superb action talent, John Abraham remains the most unmoved of them all in the movie. While that expression serves him well in the fierce fights, he seems strangely detached and emotionally botoxed in other scenes. Which is more than what you can say for yourself as you stumble out of the cinema hall, your senses beaten to pulp. You’re so grateful you survived this excruciating experience, all you want to do is knock on wood. And I don’t mean John Abraham’s expression.


Watch the trailer of Rocky Handsome here:


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