Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat carefully employs trademark Bollywood clichés to drive the narrative, but he drops guard suddenly and unleashes absolute mayhem, leaving no place to hide

Maybe this is the Crazy Train that Ozzy Osbourne was talking about. The legendary rocker might have sung a song detailing the effects of the Cold War on his mind but writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat removes all the allusions and borrows the literal meaning for his film Kill which, after raising many a roof last year during its festival run, has finally hit the theatres in India.

And, boy oh boy, ‘hit’ is quite the operative word here because the 106-minute-long film is sure to go down as one of the most visceral experiences in the history of not just Indian but world cinema at large. It’s a film that embodies the going-for-the-jugular sentiment as it twists, turns, quivers, bellows and finally bleeds lavishly to glory, without a single forewarning. Well, the title does hint at what is in store.

And yet, Kill remains a consummate Bollywood film in that it weds so many of its trademark sensibilities but jettisons only one trait — the frills. Captain Amrit Rathod (debutant Lakshya) is an NSG commando in the Indian Army, who is easy on the eye and snazzy in a suit, but his girlfriend of four years Tulika (Tanya Maniktala) is set to get engaged to a boy she doesn’t like and her rich baap (Harsh Chhaya as Baldeo Singh Thakur) does. “You are so dead,” she says when she finds Amrit at the engagement party as a guest and he, in turn, wants to know why she isn’t ‘dying’ to be with her.

She fears the worst could be her dad spotting him there whereas he feels that it would be a cakewalk to elope with her right that night, having arrived at the scene with a one-man backup in his best mate and fellow commando Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan). So much cute talk about death for a romantic scene but Bhat plays along teasingly because he knows that no one can imagine what the worst would be like until they all hop on the train that leaves from Ranchi to Delhi. If you have watched the trailer, you would know the daakus, too, get on board and just as they do, the film signals us to brace ourselves.

Upping the ante

A great hero always needs a greater villain and that’s where Kill scores the highest. Bhat’s choice of evil in popular dancer, reality-show funnyman and actor Raghav Juyal will go down as a masterstroke in casting because nothing is more terrifying than a bad guy who doesn’t look the archetype. Juyal, as Fani, is unassuming, affable and also wiry but his charlatan nature could be spotted from afar, suggesting very strongly that his amoralism has no bounds whatsoever. The very first thing he lays his eyes on, as any Hindi film baddie worth his salt does, is Tulika herself but his interests are instantly revealed to be well beyond lust.

Fani is there to rob the train passengers of their belongings like their phones, laptops and whatnot but he wouldn’t mind causing more trouble just for the sinister pleasure of it all. And knowing that he has about 40 teammates (family members, actually, because it’s a Karan Johar co-production after all) aboard, along with a few more waiting a little ahead to seize the loot, surely helps his cause.

But Nikhil Bhat isn’t interested in character development as much as he is in simply introducing the plethora of ‘players’ before pushing us over the edge. It is as though he sits in front of a machine featuring a long needle and super-tactile dial and every time he pleases, he intensifies the drama to his devilish joy. Two young army blokes (weaponless) are to take on about 50 thugs who wield knives, small machetes and some other friendly kitchen equipment, and unlike in your usual Bollywood routine, there are no big abandoned garages, airstrips or even cramming Mumbai streets to leverage.

The train treads as fast as it can (the stoppage chains have been removed, cops are asleep in a different compartment and the pilot has no freaking clue) and there is nowhere to go except to run up and down the aisles which, in Walmart speak, will soon need a good clean-up. Bhat designs the whole conceit brilliantly and given the emotional stakes of the story, he knows he doesn’t need to do anything extra but only deliver on the big promise. He does so and that too with a lot of flair, using that dial ever-so-slightly to up the ante in levels.

A mesmeric bond between love and death

That is to say that the subversions and twists (which are best left undisclosed) crop up every now and then, but the whole game is now about Amrit having to manage the situation on his own. Fani begins to dispatch men in the order of their strength and as and when our guy inflicts some pain on his gang, the difficulty only goes up a notch. Soon enough, the soundscape envelopes you with its tentacles and all that’s sensed is either a deadly knife gashing, tearing apart the skin or the skull of some dude being bludgeoned to a pulp with the help of something like a big, red smoke extinguisher. And none of this is your namby-pamby stuff, mind you, because the violence is so curt, jarring and in your face that Gaspar Noé might pick this as his date movie.

Subash Sahoo, the sound designer, is given full license to produce every sound to such a spine-chilling effect that you are sure to recoil in your fixed seats. Rafey Mohammad’s cinematography is magnificently self-effacing and never tries to be oversmart, for it mainly wishes to let the mayhem of the situation do all the talking. Shivkumar V Panicker, the editor, works in complete cahoots with action directors Se-Yeong Oh (who has previously worked with South Korean master Bong Joon-ho and a few other big Bollywood projects) and Parvez Shaikh who are really the stars of Kill.

The duo, ably supported by Shashwat Sachdev’s score, conjures action pieces with exceptional inventiveness and finesse that it’s distressing to see all the blood and flesh spill out and yet, also very, very pleasing. So much so that action, as both a trope and a genre, will cease to be engaging if it isn’t pulled off to these depths.

Of course, Kill also faces a few stutters along the way when it sidetracks into the drama or the ‘talkie’ portion of things. A few areas, like the plans hatched by Fani and his men to counter the commando, seem repetitive and as a result, the deafening, maddening relentlessness is impacted a tinge. But these aren’t sore thumbs in the large scheme of things. Lakshya’s absolute submission to the role and his physical performance aid in keeping us glued to the screen at all times — at one point, I began protesting with the theatre staff against the requirement of an interval break because I just didn’t want the frenzy to be paused.

The ensemble cast comprising several known (including a superb Ashish Vidyarthi as Fani’s dad) and unknown faces — men, women and children — add life to their template-ish parts and each of them makes an impression because of the writing. Bhat ultimately triumphs by using clichés to elevate his material and forge a mesmeric, macabre bond between love and death. This film may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s an indulgence worth every minute of it.

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