When at his best, Marathi/Hindi writer-director Mahesh V Manjrekar is capable of brilliance. You just have to watch his 2016 Marathi film Natsamrat starring Nana Patekar to know that. It therefore defies explanation that he invested so much of himself in The Power, a gangster flick with a crowd of characters laid out on a large canvas but with nothing particularly new to say. Manjrekar has written, directed and stars as one of the primary players in this Hindi film.
The Power is engaging to begin with, but as it rolls along it becomes clear that it falls in the 'if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all' category of underworld dramas. At approximately two-and-a-half hours, it is also too long.
Vidyut Jammwal stars in The Power as Devi, son of the crime boss Kalidas Thakur (Manjrekar) who draws a Lakshman Rekha in his criminal activities: he will not touch the drug trade. Devi is in love with Pari (Shruti Haasan). Her father Anwar (Zakir Hussain) is Kalidas' loyal lieutenant and a de facto member of the Thakur family.
Vidyut Jammwal as Devi
Shaila is Devi's scheming sister-in-law (Yuvika Chaudhary) who resents the Thakurs' proximity to Pari and Anwar. Her husband Ram (Jisshu Sengupta) is uncomfortable with her ways. Meanwhile, her ambitious brother Ranjit (Prateik Babbar), who is married to Ram and Devi's sister, simmers with bitterness because he feels slighted by the entire clan.
At first it appears that The Power may have something novel to offer with its promising prologue, the inter-community equations involved and a woman's transformation from devoted daughter and girlfriend to revenge-seeking, gun-wielding gangster. But each time it hints at a path less trodden, it turns away from its own promise.
In the opening scenes, Devi as a little boy is traumatised when he is caught in gunfire, and is sent away from home to recover. This will not be the first time that a gangster film shows a returning son getting drawn into his family's bloody feuds, but in The Power, there is no visible reluctance nor a gradual progression towards what Devi finally becomes. One moment he is the scared kid, the next he is an adult and a professional chef coming back to his beloved Pari and his maa ke haath ka khana, the very next he is a gun-toting, muscle-flexing, ruthless criminal without any hint of what readied him for this role during all his years away. Frankly, if that prologue had been scissored out at the edit table, it would have made no difference to the plot.
Even the uncommon presence of a woman gangster in the narrative leads to nought. In fact, the plot point that causes Pari to make the shift to crime makes no sense: why did Devi, who is so in love with her until then, suddenly treat her and Anwar lightly?
Sachin Khedekar, Shruti Haasan and Salil Ankola
Uncharacteristically for a Hindi film, The Power features a lavender marriage " in this case, a marriage of convenience between a heterosexual woman and a man who, it is hinted, is gay. Though Manjrekar deserves praise for not reducing the man to a cartoon in typical Bollywood style, it does seem like his sexual orientation is introduced to suggest a man-woman role reversal in the family, with the husband always shown caring for their baby while the woman goes about what is conventionally considered 'men's work'. There is even a scene in which he does what gangsters' wives are generally shown doing in films featuring violence: he takes the baby out of the room, leaving his wife to deal with the brewing aggression. All this might have been interesting if it weren't for the fact that what comes across is the writer's own subconscious stereotypical notions about the role that men and women are meant to play in a marriage and the emotional inclinations of homosexual men.
The underworld in The Power is an unusual mix of Hindus, Muslims and Christians. On the plus side, the Muslims and Christians are, for the most part, not stereotyped. No socio-political insights are offered into the group's heterogeneity though, and it comes across almost as if this element was thrown into the mix mindlessly as a religious representation project " "Hindu, Muslim, no Sikh, only Isaai / hum sab hai Kalidas Bhai, Anwar Bhai aur D'Costa Bhai", literally, with no depth.
The camera is as unadventurous as the script, revealing little about the locations in which the story plays out. The Thakurs live in an attractive mansion that brings to mind the Portuguese architecture visible in Goa, but the place is left unexplored.
The Power seems not to know what it wants to be or do. When the camera hints at a man's head being chopped off, it shows a swinging knife and then moves away; next thing you now, it is back, to give us a clear shot of the severed head lying on the ground. It may as well have shown the actual act of chopping " what was the point of only hinting at it? The same template is followed when a man's limbs are slashed off: the saw moves forward, the camera moves away, we are then given a clear, lingering shot of the mutilated body with an arm and a leg on the floor. Again, we may as well have been shown the actual act of severing " what was the point of only hinting at it? In any case, the film as a whole is extremely gory, so why bother with fleeting coyness?
Ultimately, The Power is about the pointlessness of bloodshed, and how one act of violence sets off an unending cycle that is likely to consume everyone in its wake. Others like Ramgopal Varma and Anurag Kashyap have made the same point repeatedly and in far better Hindi films, as did Manjrekar himself in 1999's Vaastav.
In fact, The Power is not just generic and derivative. With all its talk about the might of Thakurs, a leading man who bashes up gangs of goons single-handedly and rises from the dead to save a loved one in a truly laughable scene, it is also terribly dated.
(All images from YouTube)
The Power is now streaming on Zee Plex. Watch the trailer here "