In a milieu of bustling violence, terrorism has been reduced to a formula in our cinema. A pretext to show larger-than-life villains with heroes to match. But what about those real terrorists and those unsung heroes who have apprehended dreaded terrorists not for fame recognition or, God forbid, money. But simply because to them, that seems the right thing to do.
India’s Most Wanted is that rare film on counter-terrorism which seems to show no inclination to overplay its cards, Rajkumar Gupta’s target here is to not show his hero indulging in scene-stealing heroics (the kind Akshay Kumar would be seen doing), but to put the protagonist, a docile humble unostentatious man Prabhat who never smiles because… well, what is there to smile about? Have you seen the number of bomb blasts that have occurred in the last 2 decades?
Prabhat believes nabbing India’s most dangerous terrorist is not a negotiable job. He just has to do it. And if he gets no help from official agencies then he will do it on his own with a ragged quartet of like-minded government officials, so nondescript they could pass off as vegetable vendors on a crowded street.
As played by Arjun Kapoor, Pravin Singh Sisodia, Aasif Khan, Devendra Mishra and Prasanth Philip Alexander this is the most unlikely army of heroes you will ever encounter in mainstream cinema. There is no effort to portray them as anything except what they really are: penniless counter-terrorists driven only by a passion to make this world a better place for peace-loving citizens.
Barring Arjun Kapoor, most of the faces used in this excruciatingly authentic cat-and-mouse game are the kind that don’t act. They seem to merge into the milieu with a fluency that could be perceived as the opposite of grace. But then who said anything about acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism being graceful?
India’s Most Wanted is a slow-burner of a film. It derives immense power out of its writer-director’s proclivity to keep the physicality of the actors as authentic as possible. The emotional quotient simply follows. The narrative begins in Patna and then moves with noisy fluidity into Nepal where the chase to hunt down the primeval terrorist is chronicled in graphic detail, one step at a time. Please be patient.
While Arjun Kapoor immerses himself in looking and feeling like a Bihari terror-annihilator (he had played Bihari earlier in 2 States) most the actors don’t even need to try. It’s a no-win circumstance for these unconditional heroes. No guns, no back-up. Only a junoon to get the most dreaded terrorist. It can’t get any more basic.
The shoot-out at the end is so convincingly shot it feels like documentary footage. Quickly before the film lapsed into a show of realistic espionage, Raj Kumar Gupta gives us 20 minutes of heart stopping climactic action.
The build-up is slow and steady. And the culmination is overpowering in its fluency.
This is a film that is in no hurry to get to the end. Gupta knows we are living in a dangerous world where violence is a given. He treads with empathy and warmth into this world. The climactic payoff is not our reward for watching the film so intently. It is the fate of unsung heroes to indulge in their heroics when no one is watching.
This film is shot as though it didn’t know audiences would watch it. Instinctive and spontaneous it is game-changer for its makers and for us too.