Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan) travels to Turkey to avenge the death of his lover and partner in crime.   

2
Bollywood sequel a sluggish affair.

There’s a certain kind of shot in a Bollywood film that I always kind of look forward to. Like the glittering glamour close up 'portraits’ from Hollywood’s black-and-white 'Golden Age’, the bit I’m thinking of has a similar function; it’s there to signal a 'big moment’ for a character or a plot turning point, sometimes both. It’s not the kind of film grammar that’s exclusive to Bollywood, but like the 'fly-around’ in a modern Hollywood sci-fi/fantasy, it’s a signature moment. Whenever you see it, you get the sense the makers know the right moves.

Most of the time Race 2 has the vacant mood and styling of an up-market tourist ad



The short hand phrase for this visual beat – at least in the context of a Bollywood pic – is 'high-speed walk’. Captured on a long lens, the character is seen striding directly toward camera, eye-level, in slow motion. It’s an effect that I reckon ascribes grace, power and dignity to a character. It’s not gender specific; indeed, when a woman is a subject of a high-speed walk, there always seems to be a stiff breeze blowing lavishly coiffed hair in ever-so-pretty waves that reveal perfectly sculptured cheeks and lips.

In Race 2, a sequel to the big Bollywood hit of 2008, the main roles – two men and two women – end up getting their own high-speed walk. But then, so does the major supporting role, a character that provides most of the movie’s plot exposition (which there’s a whole lot of). Played by Anil Kapoor, he’s RD or Robert, the retired cop from Race. He’s a goofy bloke who performs a comic double act with his secretary called Cherry (Ameesha Patel). She’s hot for him; the translated English subtitles provide her with dialogue where she talks about, umm, 'eating’ RD. I’ve read that this pair’s scenes – consisting mainly of sexual double-entendres – and combined with the high bare-skin quotient and strong violence – is enough to exile Race 2 from wholesome Bollywood entertainment.

Still, I’m not quite sure why the directing team, Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla (they did the first pic too), wanted to give Kapoor his speed walk. It seems a break in this tradition. Was it a deliberate undermining of the film’s self-serious tone? Perhaps, but then the movie never quite sells its thriller style in the first place, mainly because the plot and action detail is so silly and consistently, gleefully gee-wiz. And by the way, that’s no complaint; wanting real world logic in something like this is a dead-end gambit. But Abbas and Mutan (as they sign their credit) don’t seem interested in creating an internal logic that sells their outrageous screen-world. It’s juvenile in the worst sense. Most of the time Race 2 has the vacant mood and styling of an up-market tourist ad with Bollywood song and dance numbers spliced in.

Race 2 is a revenge narrative. The vehicle for payback isn’t guns or love; it’s a long-con style of sting where one super-rich crook aims to divest another super-rich crook of their billions via an elaborate scheme that involves many a plot-reversal and double-cross, sibling rivalry, uncertain allegiances and the heist of, of all things, the Shroud of Turin.

The hero, from Race, is a good crook, Ranveer, played by Saif Ali Khan. His target is gangster Armaan (John Abraham). He runs his empire of ill-gotten gains with his sister Elena (Deepika Padukone). Armaan has a girlfriend, Omisha (Jacqueline Fernandez), who may have a connection with Ranveer’s murdered fiancé, Sonia (Bipasha Basu). Each of these actors are great to look at; all are impossibly glamorous creatures who don’t do nearly as good a job impersonating their characters as they do modeling costumes, jewelry and one-per-center luxe props like sports cars, yachts and planes

This isn’t exactly an action movie. A lot of screen time seems to be taken up with the antagonists exchanging smirks of superiority. When not doing that they divide their time between playing con tricks on each other and chasing women. There’s a lot of Bollywood erotica, but no heat. The guys brood and strip to the waist a lot. The women show off leg and torso. (The female actors seem to be the only ones here with a sense of humour about the whole thing.)

Flat, sluggish and overburdened with plot, it takes till the interval, a full 90-mins, to set up the action. But there is one really excellent chase/fight sequence late in the piece, brilliantly attenuated and staged, involving car action, free-running and a very nasty bit of fisticuffs.

It’s much better than the film’s climax, where Ranveer and Armaan go one on one, staged in mid-flight on a luxury jet. It’s so over the top, it feels like self-mockery. It doesn’t help that the CGI employed to sell this bit – a depressurised cabin and plane in free-fall – has no gloss or finish to it, and that goes for the rest of the special effects in the picture too. It looks crappy. But by then Race 2 already feels spent, exhausted by a succession of plot twists that deliver no surprises at all. When it was over, I was left with the worst kind of feeling; the moment every movie fan dreads. Relief.