An action film that yo-yos between many conflicting poles, Ganapath – A Hero is Born, is a massive heap of cliches. It swings between the supposedly futuristic and the messily medieval, between Mad Mad terrain and Warrior territory, and between Shamshera and Brahmastra without hitting any highs.
What it adds up to is an exercise that aspires to be the kick-off for a super-fighter franchise but lacks the wherewithal and firepower to go the distance.
Written and directed by Vikas Bahl, Ganapath goes one way and then another, pretty much like the eponymous protagonist, who fights for his life in a kickboxing arena with as much enthusiasm and nimbleness as he demonstrates on the dance floor of the “Dirty People Club”, his night spot of choice.
Tiger Shroff isn’t Tom Hardy. And he certainly isn’t Mel Gibson. But he brings a whole lot of energy to bear upon the persona of a divinely ordained superhero who requires one whole half of the 135-minute to find his metier.
When he does begin to land on his feet, he thrives on pulling the wool on the eyes of both the desperate people who need him to stand up for them and those that exploit him for their own benefit. The ‘spectacle’ that his games yield is as exciting as watching grass grow.
It is another matter that in the futuristic, dystopian world in which Ganapath is set, no grass actually grows. It is trampled upon by obnoxious men who are out to knock each other cold. If there is anything at all that the film manages to convey, it is a heightened idea of what lies in store for humankind if toxic masculinity is allowed a free rein.
Not that the screenwriter is remotely interested in debunking violence as the sole solution for what is wrong with the world. It does not so much as recognize that what it peddles as a tool of liberation is at the root of all the misfortunes that the dispossessed have to contend with.
On one hand is a city that reimagines a Hong Kong-like skyline from a half a century in the future. It is called Silver City, a hi-tech megalopolis inhabited by the rich and powerful. On the other is a city in ruins – gareebon ki bustee, the hero calls it – where exceedingly impoverished men, women and children struggle for water and food (they are both bhookha (hungry) and pyaasa (thirsty), a narrator points out pretty early on) as they await the advent of a promised saviour.
The hackneyed rich-versus-poor thriller revolves around a reluctant fighter who transforms himself into a one-man army in the blink of an eye and then does several coolly calculated flip-flops before fulfilling a grand prophecy made by his sage-like grandfather.
The grandfather, Dalapati, played by Amitabh Bachchan (in a special appearance in which only his voice is recognisable), pops up now and then to remind the audience of the drifter-hero’s larger purpose in life. The young man, Guddu-turned-Ganapath (Tiger Shroff), has no inkling of what destiny has in store for him.
Guddu loves nothing more than singing, dancing and womanizing. Ganapath is the sort of movie in which women are mere props. The hero makes a living by head-hunting for bare-knuckle fights organized by a voiceless John the Englishman (Palestinian actor Ziad Bakri), who uses a chip on the nape of his neck to speak, and his wicked crime syndicate.
John isn’t the boss of the evil empire. Dalini, who lurks in the shadows, is. The latter’s identity isn’t revealed until the final sequence of the film. His appearance – he is an invincible, near-robotic figure – sets the stage for Part 2 of a rather lukewarm film.
Ganapath is immortal, a force of nature who not only survives a burial but comes out of the ordeal infinitely stronger and more determined. It, however, takes Jassi (Kriti Sanon), herself no mean fighter, to show him the right path.
When the hero first meets the lady, it is in a Chinese eatery where it is he who needs rescuing from the bad guys. But soon enough, Jassi becomes a mere spectator in a male-dominated slugfest in which Guddu and Ganapath, the two facets of the hero, fight with each other for the upper hand.
There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with all the direct and indirect religious iconography that Ganapath projects, but deep in the film’s core is an undisguised hatred for anybody who exists outside the what it would have us believe is the civilizational mainstream.
The bad guy here is John. Among the men that Guddu/Ganapath fights are not only Chinese – they have a go at him not once but twice, with a poster of Bruce Lee looking on in silence – but also of other nationalities. There is also a ferocious kidnapper-mercenary in the pack who is called Tabahi (meaning destruction) and is played by French MMA fighter and actor Jess Liaudin.
However, among the people who are on the righteous protagonist’s side is the indestructible Shiva (Rashin Rahman), who like Shiva the Destroyer, lives on a mountain (arid and dusty, not snow-covered). He is blind but can see everything.
Ganapath holds the balance between the mute John the Englishman – he is malevolence personified – and the sightless Shiva – an embodiment of wisdom and benignity – as he dithers with intent between the two moral ends. The simplistic narrative methods might have served their purpose had the writing not been as rudimentary.
Tiger Shroff throws all he has into the concoction, which is just as well. The second part of Ganapath promises “more” of him. He bulldozes his way through the rubble. Kriti Sanon starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper for no fault of her own. Ziad Bakri, who is from Palestine’s best-known family of actors, rises above the mess. So does Rashin Rahman.
The only one who comes out unscathed from Ganapath is director of photography Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti. The film’s visual palette is inconsistent – it blurs the line between the past and the future and is unable to draw a clear line to separate the two – but the cinematographer is at the top of his game.
All the flourishes notwithstanding, Ganapath is painfully pea-brained pulp that makes a meal of a terribly thin storyline. It struggles to shore itself up with the aid of utterly vacuous, glaringly hackneyed means that are never in with a chance to get the job done.
Tiger Shroff, Kriti Sanon, Amitabh Bachchan, Elli Avrram