You can take Mohit Suri out of the Bhatt universe, but can you truly take the Bhatts out of Mohit Suri? Malang is the kind of film where when someone enters a rave party, they’re asked to choose between sukoon (relief) and mazaa (fun). In a separate scene, we hear ‘wahaan rehna mushkil hota hai jahaan yaadein rehti hai’, from someone leaving a cottage once shared with her ex-lover. The most amusing thing about these lines, which seem to have graduated from the Milap Milan Zaveri School of Trite Dialogues, is that they’re mouthed by a Swedish-born, settled-in-Goa character, Jessie (Ellie AvRam).
Malang opens with a fabulous, wordless sequence, where the camera follows our protagonist (Aditya Roy Kapur) as he goes through an entire prison corridor pummeling his fellow prisoners in pure Park Chan-wook fashion. But it’s only when the characters start talking that the Bhatt-isms drown what could have been a watchable action-thriller.
Sara (Disha Patani), who is bored of the beaches in Mauritius, chooses to hit the beaches of Goa. What’s her mantra? “To live life from one high to another,” she tells Aditya Roy Kapur’s Advait, who she meets at a party. Advait, who we’re told is trying to escape his parents’ bad marriage, immerses himself in an introductory ‘hippie’ course, with plans to backpack through Goa, Gokarna (Karnataka) and Tosh (Himachal Pradesh) with a GoPro.
Between one rave to the next, the two ‘free-spirited’ hipsters go through all the drills of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, with interludes fuelled by alcohol, pills, black lights, and another one of those Arijit Singh knockoff tracks with a heavy electronic arrangement.
Plot-wise, Malang has little to say. Being released after a five-year prison sentence, Advait is keen on avenging the death of his girlfriend, Sara. Going after the three corrupt cops involved, the screenplay is riddled with lazy flashbacks cued with staple T-Series songs.
Suri might want to trick you into selling his ‘new-age’ vision of the romantic thriller (something he’s made a career out of), but the film’s dated sensibilities reveal themselves in the way it treats its characters’ abuse of drugs. Much like 2018’s Sanju, where Rajkumar Hirani failed spectacularly at creating psychedelic hallucinations, even Suri isn’t interested in characters’ drugs abuse beyond the fact that it looks ‘edgy’. Anil Kapoor, playing the role of a twisted cop based in Goa, is introduced to us while he’s snorting cocaine in a loo. It looks so artificial that the drugs suddenly become a justification for the actor’s own eccentricities, where he repeatedly breaks out into his loud signature laughter.
Beginning as a time-pressed thriller taking place over the course of a single night, Malang takes a wild swerve in the final 45 mins while trying to offer its two cents on society’s purported ideas of masculinity. Unfortunately, the repeated mid-shots on characters’ perfectly toned abs, replete with their large, intricate tattoos betray the film’s intentions. And Malang ends up advocating the very thing that it seems to be designed to preach against. As a thriller too, Malang is the kind of harebrained film where a cop upon learning about a suspect with dreadlocks, he asks his juniors to check with their ‘hippie network’. The film’s big twist is too contrived to be any effective.
One of Malang‘s biggest problems are its characters who never seem to be inhabiting a ‘realistic’ time & space beyond the film. Hence, never allowing the audience to fully invest in the stakes of the story. Whether it is Advait, Sara, Anil Kapoor’s Inspector Agashe or even Kunal Kemmu’s Michael Rodriguez, all their character descriptions might fit into a piece of paper inside a fortune cookie. And in spite of this critical lack of depth, the film annoyingly allows these characters to strain their eyebrows to saying something “profound”. There is scope for complexity in Kemmu’s character, but the screenplay starts peeling off his layers quite late for any substantial commentary. Roy Kapur and Patani don’t trouble the score-board too much, except for looking perfectly groomed throughout the film.
The only time the whole theatre seemed to be fully attentive to Malang, was during an unintentionally funny cameo by Shaad Randhawa. A mainstay in Mohit Suri/Milap Zaveri films, he’s seen (where else!) at an alcohol shop, making his good friend, Advait, scream ‘Abey piyakkad!’ (Hey drunkard!). The theatre audience laughed because only a few years ago, the roles were reversed in Aashiqui 2 (also directed by Mohit Suri). That’s the only moment when Malang doesn’t seem like a film birthed out of thin air.