Cast: Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh, Jackie Shroff, Javed Jaffrey, Sikandar Kher, Abhimanyu Singh
Director: Rohit Shetty
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
After Singham Returns and Simmba, it was evident that Rohit Shetty's cop actioners were in dire need of a bit of policing themselves. The fourth in the series, Sooryavanshi, attempts a course correction. The results are at best middling. Some parts of the film are solid, others rather starchy.
The action is once again 'designed' by Shetty himself. So, Sooryavanshi has its share of automobiles being blown up, turning turtle, or ramming into strategically placed obstacles. We saw the best of such stunts all of a decade ago in Singham. Nothing that Sooryavanshi unleashes on the action front catches us by surprise. That apart, the film takes its own sweet time to lay out the dense details of the hero's mission: the prevention of a repeat of the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts.
Sooryavanshi is far less thunderous than Singham. It plays out more like regular police procedural than a crusading cop-fighting-a-corrupt-system drama. The hero, a crack Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) man, has his task cut out. A bunch of militants from across the border are still in hiding in different parts of India and biding their time.
What's worse, intelligence inputs suggest that back in the 1990s one tonne of RDX was smuggled into Mumbai but less than half of it was used in the serial blasts of March 12, 1993. The remaining explosives are buried somewhere, waiting to be used in another big terror strike.
The sleeper cells are under the command of Riyaz Hafeez (Abhimanyu Singh in his second release of the Diwali weekend after the Rajini-starrer Annaatthe), son of the Lashkar chief Omar Hafeez (Jackie Shroff). The Sooryavanshi plot centres on the police operation to find the hidden RDX and neutralise the sleeper cells.
Sooryavanshi and his men have to contend with a whole bunch of other terrorists - some in India, some in POK. Among them is Bilal Ahmed (Kumud Mishra), one of the men who got away after the 1993 serial blasts despite the best efforts of the decorated Mumbai Police officer Kabir Shroff (Jaaved Jaffrey). The enemy is both within and without. The action, therefore, moves out of India occasionally, most notably to Bangkok, the site of a car, copter and ski boat chase that culminates in the hero nabbing a man (Sikandar Kher) accused of helping a terrorist.
Despite the great danger hovering over the nation, Akshay Kumar's committed and intrepid cop stays within the parameters of the clean-cut screen image that the actor has developed of late. The policeman he plays is distinct in style and substance from the tough-as-nails, irate-as-a-wasp Bajirao Singham and the jocular, jaunty Sangram Bhalerao (of Simmba). In other words, Veer Sooryavanshi is the sort of lawman who prefers to err on the side of stodginess.
Early in the film, someone refers to the film's protagonist as paagal (insane). But this man in uniform, who is summoned to locate the 600 kg of RDX that has remained unaccounted for 27 years after landing in India, does not quite live up to that description. He is a straightlaced, earnest cop. He certainly doesn't have a streak of madness in him.
Although Veer Sooryavanshi isn't given to flying off the handle in Bajirao Singham's aata maajhi satakli manner, he is usually quick on the draw and averse to waiting for orders from his superiors. One such instance of haste leads to his estrangement from his doctor-wife Ria (Katrina Kaif).
Their love story begins when Sooryavanshi checks into a hospital with a bullet wound. Ria treats him. He falls for her. They marry. A few years down the line, the couple separate because he chooses duty over family. It is easy to see why. He is a true-blue warrior: nation above all else and all that!
He launches into righteous lectures at the drop of a hat. He even harps on communal harmony. The Mumbai police does not see a man's religion, only his criminal antecedents, before pulling the trigger, he asserts to a pickpocket-turned-religious leader played by Gulshan Grover.
In a sanctimonious scene aimed at underlining the difference between a patriotic Muslim and a perfidious one, something that Hindi cinema never tires of doing while merrily carrying on with its stereotyping of a community, Sooryavanshi holds up a former associate Naeem Khan (Rajendra Gupta), who served the police force with distinction for 30 years, as a contrast to a suspect who has been summoned to the ATS headquarters for questioning.
If that were not enough, another scene shows a maulvi and his men carrying a Ganpati idol to safety when word spreads that a bomb has been planted in an area where a temple and mosque stand side by side. To get a rise out of the audience, Chhodo kal ki baatein kal ki baat purani/Naye daur mein likhenge milkar nayin kahani hum Hindustani (from the 1961 Hindi film Hum Hindustani) plays on the soundtrack. You desperately want to warm up to the sentiment. Unfortunately, it does not ring true.
Well into the second half, the film brings back the heroes of both Singham and Simmba to fight the terrorists alongside Sooryavanshi. In-jokes flow thick and fast as the three men team up for the climax in the ATS building.
Bhalerao tends to get on the nerves of the other two and is brusquely ticked off a few times. "I think you are both jealous of me. Koi baat nahi, apna time aayega," he retorts. It is another matter that Ranveer Singh frequently steals the thunder of the more seasoned stars.
For Akshay Kumar, from Bell Bottom to Sooryavanshi, this performance is no more than a hop and a skip from one set to another. His gait, as always, is a veritable stunt in itself: a cross between a model in the middle of a catwalk and a superhero about to take flight. It is aimed at his fans. If it works for them, who are we to carp?
Katrina Kaif pulls off a Tip tip barsa paani rejig with aplomb. But in a film overrun by three larger-than-life cops displaying their wares, a doctor is left with little to do other than negotiate the fallout of a derailed marriage.
Just like Simmba had provided a glimpse of what was to come in the next instalment, Sooryavanshi indicates what the future might hold for the Rohit Shetty cop universe. Brace yourself for another cops-and-terrorists faceoff with the character essayed by Jackie Shroff getting greater play than he does here. That might be something to look forward to.
To end, the million-dollar question: is Sooryavanshi the film that the doctor ordered for Bollywood's post-pandemic era? The answer is: well, almost.