‘An Action Hero’: A Mostly Fun Caper

By Shubhra Gupta

An Action Hero is pretty much what its title says it is: it is about an action hero, and his unexpected adventures, during which he learns the difference between reel life and real life.

The film is stuffed with meta jokes, in-house gags, and a running jibe against the shouty TV shows which have declared Bollywood a national enemy, including a string of rebuttals to the hashtag #BoycottBollywood that’s been the bane of the Hindi film industry. This is what makes it more than a message-in-a-bottle, a favourite Bollywood trope. The best part: many of those jokes land, and An Action Hero becomes a rarity, a caper which is mostly fun.

Our hero Manav Khuranna (Ayushmann Khurrana) is all set to do an action sequence while shooting a film in Haryana. An incident involving a brash Jat youth ends with a fatal accident, and Manav on the run: from the innards of North India, he makes a dash for London, and finds himself in all kinds of trouble.

The pace is fast enough for us not to ask if Manav roams around with his passport in his pocket. Hot on his heels is Jat strongman neta Bhoora (Jaideep Ahlawat), who has reasons to wish him very ill indeed, brandishing a gun and taking aim. Once again, everything moves fast enough for us not ask just how exactly did Bhoora manage to transport himself and a weapon through to the UK (also, how did he get a visa?). It’s that kind of film where you are not meant to question logic-defying situations: you are meant to sit back, and enjoy the ride.

That’s pretty much what we end up doing. First off, the choice of Khurrana, who has assiduously cultivated the guy-next-door persona, to play a muscle-bound hero is meant to make you smile. We do. And Khurrana is self-aware enough to see it. Ahlawat wears his dourness-laced-with-a-bit-of-dark-humour well, and matches Khurrana blow for blow. And then there are the hectoring TV anchors who bay for Manav’s blood, calling him all kinds of names (this is where the film starts imitating real life, picking up the invectives heaped upon Bollywood in the past couple of years: one screaming anchor, yells, ‘drrrrugs, give me drrrrugs’, and the line between fact and fiction blurs instantly).

The famous TV anchor-sound-alikes have clearly now become a Bollywood sub-genre, and equally clearly, the writers of this film have given themselves leeway to send the whole tribe up relentlessly, getting their own back on the trolls and naysayers. It’s mostly cleverly inserted into the action, and mostly fun, until it starts becoming a little too on the nose. But until that happens, we laugh out loud.

Till the time the film is scooting about in the English countryside, and in London town, with Manav and Bhoora playing cat and mouse, it stays fun. A segment featuring a dreaded don called Masood Abraham Katkar threatens to stretch things a bit, but is mercifully cut short. It’s when the film begins to take itself seriously that it halts the proceedings: take, for example, a lecture that Bhoora delivers, in the middle of a hand-to-hand fight, about heroes, and how they are nothing without the paying public. All well and good, but scat, we want the action heroes to only do what they do best: kick and chop their way through a throng of baddies. Those little moments when nothing much is going on slows down the proceedings, and prevents this one from being a total humdinger. That also goes for a song-and-dance sequence featuring the very svelte Malaika, who shares a terrific raised brow moment with our hero.

Watch out for a walk-on part by Akshay Kumar, who leaves more impact in those few minutes than he has in his recent movies.

An Action Hero movie cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Jaideep Ahlawat
An Action Hero movie director: Anirudh Iyer
An Action Hero movie rating: 2.5 stars