Movie Review: Dus

Subhash K. Jha, IANS

imageFilm: "Dus"; Starring: Sanjay Dutt, Abhishek Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Zayed Khan, Suniel Shetty, Esha Deol, Raima Sen, Pankaj Kapoor; Director: Anubhav Sinha

This film is so cool, you probably need sun glasses to watch it. Unlike its thriller-predecessors like Sanjay Gupta's "Kaante", Vikram Bhatt's "Elaan" and Rajiv Rai's "Asambhav", Dus isn't phoney-cool. Nor does it seem like a poor country cousin of Hollywood's "Die Hard" and "Mission Impossible" series.

Sure, the screenplay writers Yash and Vinay have borrowed huge chunks - sometimes without alteration - from several Hollywood action flicks. And the whole cool-dude attitude that every protagonist wears like designer clothes is straight out of the ultra-chic "Men in Black" prototype that serves as an imperialistic role model for large-screen heroism.

Nevertheless you have to hand it to Anubhav Sinha. He handles the extra-large canvas and cast with pulsating panache. The hectic but steady narrative never allows us to dwell on the absurd and wild liberties taken with time and space to accommodate the breakneck pace.

As Sinha transports his characters from Delhi to Calgary on a mission to save the world (or is it just the Indian prime minister?) from international terrorism, he makes sure the film doesn't take itself too seriously.

"Dus" is an interesting mix of action and reaction, of satire and spoof, of desire and frisson. The characters are derived from westwards but driven by homespun emotions. While they wear their languorous attitude till the last dying scream on the superbly assembled soundtrack, they also take time off to do their dal-chawal act.

There's a contrived engagement song where Sinha lets us know in subtle hints that there is a kind of triangular tussle between the bride-to-be (Dia Mirza, in a blink-and-miss role) her fiancée and Zayed Khan who's the bride's brother Sanjay Dutt's subordinate.

But it's the men who matter. After "Sarkar" last week here again is a film that focuses on masculine motivations with almost single-minded devotion, so much so that even Shilpa Shetty is one of the guys. Tall lissome and utterly devoid of oomphy coquettishness she delivers the kick in the villain's groin with as much panache as her male colleagues.

The bum-chum camaraderie among the men doing state-sanctioned espionage work has never been better. Abhishek Bachchan and Zayed Khan are masterfully cast against each other (much more so than Bachchan and Uday Chopra in the similarly-mooded Dhoom).

Their constant squabble specially about claiming the attentions of their boss and idol Sanjay Dutt, lends an edge of ironical sentimentality to what's predominantly a sharp shoot from the hip.

As for the plot... not much there, I'm afraid. The one-liner about a group of anti-terrorists preventing a designer-armageddon is filled out rather sumptuously with characters that seem to have lived a life beyond the camera. Fortunately for the febrile fabric of the volatile tale, the technique applied to the characters' conflicts isn't namby-pamby.

Though shot in scenic Calgary, Vijay Arora's cinematography is more attuned to the characters than you'd generally discover in a saga celebrating the dudes' dynamism. But the editing gives the director's music-video antecedents away.

Repeatedly the shots are syncopated and rendered unnecessarily terse. Moments of tension and drama are lost in the wild endeavour to scamper to the finishing line without losing the audience's interest.

The director understands the dynamics of an action film well. Though modelled on indigenous sources the narrative never looks alienated from our soil. That fine but neglected actor Ninad Kamath's cameo as a traitorous patriot lingers after the shimmering shindig. He's framed in a borrowed way. But his thoughts, we can almost see, are purely desi.

At the end, the triumph of "Dus" is the triumph of eye-catching packaging. Every component gets its fair share of stare from the absorbed viewer. Every sequence has a well-coordinated blueprint to see it ahead of the audience. Barring a few women characters (like Esha Deol) everyone is in-sync with the mood of a gathering storm, albeit in a stylish teacup that Anubhav Sinha has created.

The performances are uniformly endearing. Sanjay Dutt as the group leader is vulnerable strong and conflicted. The hint of a relationship with Shilpa Shetty is given a dignified place in the narrative. Suniel Shetty as a cop battling inner demons gets into the swing of things.

Pankaj Kapoor takes away a large slice of the punch lines and audiences' attention. His accent, body language and unpredictable outbursts of emotion are grandiose and yet meshed well into the narrative.

But the film finally belongs to the Zayed-Abhishek pair. Zayed's baby-brat place in the task force gives him a chance to evince a smile from the audience. He makes the best of the opportunity. For Abhishek, "Dus" is one more step ahead for the rapidly evolving actor. His death sequence ensures him the maximum ovation from the audience.

As for casting, the achingly young and pretty Raima Sen as Suniel Shetty's pregnant wife... where did that come from? Rating: 2.5