Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Vijay Sethupathi, Nayanthara, Sanya Malhotra, Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Dutt, Priyamani, Girija Oak, Sunil Grover, Lehar Khan, Seeza Saroj Mehta
“When I play the villain, no hero stands a chance” – Shah Rukh Khan is heard intriguingly declare in the viral trailer of his latest Bollywood blockbuster. So, is he playing a villain or is he a hero? Is he the soldier of the title or a rebel, or even a terrorist hijacking a train? There is a lot to unpack.
A quiet tribal village on the India-China border takes in a bullet-riddled stranger and helps him recuperate. Soon this gauzed-up man in a coma is resurrected, almost God-like, to vanquish the enemies who storm the village. At the end of this almighty clash, he has only one question: “Who am I?”
Thirty years fly by, the scene shifts to Mumbai and a man who is the spitting image of that village messiah is holding an underground train packed with passengers hostage, with the help of an all-women gang – each with her own expertise to pull off this hi-tech siege. Their Chief (Khan) claims to be Vikram Rathore on a mission to shake up the corrupt system that piles life-threatening financial pressures on hardworking farmers and yet waives loans worth millions for wealthy businessmen like Kalee Gaikwad (Sethupathi). It’s no accident that the Kalee’s daughter is among the hostages and Vikram holds all the cards as he discusses terms with special ops negotiator Narmada (Nayanthara), complete with some serenading down the walkie-talkie.
When the ransom is paid and the money used to pay off millions of farmer loans, Vikram Rathore becomes an instant Robinhood-style hero. At the end of this action-packed clandestine operation, complete with gunfire and decoy explosions, the scene shifts to a women’s prison when the Chief’s six-women brigade is seen slipping back in behind bars. He follows soon after as their Jailor in uniform, Azad Rathore (also Khan), to accept an award from the UN for his reformist actions in the women’s prison over the years.
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Azad and his team of women warriors go on to accomplish another high-octane siege situation, this time to shine a light on the corrupt practices within the medical field. An unexpected romance with Narmada on the sidelines is an unplanned development, mostly down to her daughter Suji (Mehta) taking a shine to Azad as the ideal father figure she has been on the hunt for. Will Azad and Narmada’s nuptials lead to disaster or redemption? And, will Azad/Vikram Rathore be successful in his mission of defeating Kalee in his evil goals and win over the public to convince them to make full use of the power in their hands – the power to vote out a corrupt and underperforming government?
There are many twists and turns and surprises in store in this action drama before it gets to that point, with not just one but at least two Shah Rukh Khans on the prowl. Each of the other characters, including power-packed cameos by Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Dutt, are etched in shades of grey as the plot tackles issues as serious as flawed defence deals, the dubious nexus between ministers and criminals and the gaping rich versus poor divide.
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But all these heavy-handed messages are delivered in classic Atlee style, packed with non-stop action and humour. That the plot is derivative of the Spanish streaming hit ‘Money Heist’ or that not all of plot twists add up don’t really matter in this thrilling and entertaining ride. Even the lengthy preachy sequence about the power of democracy doesn’t jar too much by the time it comes on, as the audience is busy cheering along a new-age Robinhood by then.
The result is Shah Rukh once again makes his mark as the one and only King Khan.