By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "James"; Starring: Mohit Ahlawat, Nisha Kothari, Zakir Husain, Mohan Agashe, Rajpal Yadav; Directed by Rohit Jugraj. Rating: **
Some films launch a star. In other cases a star launches a film. Ram Gopal Varma's latest discovery Mohit Ahlawat, arguably his most worth watching male discovery to date, lifts the routine masala action flick to the level of a spiced-up sizzler.
Ahlawat with his well-toned physique and an underplayed but persuasive personality could comfortably be designated the Blast Action Hero. His smouldering silences, those slanted silently accusing eyes, and raised eyebrows (one of them pierced and adorned with a ring) have the power to rip the screen apart.
Yup. Mohit Ahlawat is here to stay. But what about the film? Does it go beyond a star-launch vehicle?
Stylishly put together, every cliché in the book of formulistic filmmaking is brought into play... The high-octane action gets going right away, as the Goan loner in Mumbai encounters red-hot goondaism on a train.
The hero's introductory sequence, a traditional whammy that Hindi films have served up since time-immemorial, is surprisingly tame here. Maybe it's the cramped confines of the speeding locomotive that localises director Rohit Jugraj's style initially.
For the rest of the film the debutant director brings his debutant hero out on the streets to fight hooliganism like never before, as Ram Gopal Varma's usual suspects - scruffy, unwashed, repulsive villains with beards and hair that appear to be an anti-dandruff shampoo's delight - line up to unleash terror.
Mumbai never looked less inviting and more forbidding. Cinematographer Amal Neerad swoops across the jaded skyline like a hunter on the prowl. Amar Mohile's background score pounds out a pulsating theme-anthem for Ahlawat's dream debut - dream for the debutant but a nightmare for those who come in contact with this comic-book hero many sizes larger than life.
That grim no-nonsense deportment echoes Amitabh Bachchan in "Zanjeer", the anti-establishment cop who fought the system. Today's Angry Young Man needs to be far less unfocussed about his moral ambiguity. Mohit's heroic stance is amazingly old world. He tells the besotted girl Nisha (newcomer Nisha Kothari) that he has never done anything wrong in his life. He warns his evil opponents not to mess around with him before beating them to a pulp, and he never takes off his shirt till the very end.
It's a very understated almost chivalrous kind of machismo, underlined by pounds of pounding music and action sequences.
The material chosen to support Ahlawat's debut is slickly packaged. Regrettably a lot of the supporting cast is already seen repeatedly in Varma's other productions. You can't take their sneering villainy that seriously any longer.
The main antagonist here is newcomer Sherveer Vakil who looks appropriately diabolic but unequal to the task of matching strides with the hero. The climactic one-to-one combat between the two is way too lengthy and tiring.
Watching "James" is a tiring experience. Much of the film is shot in crowded public places and at a breakneck speed with the hero and the girl on the run. The world of the film is utterly anarchic and violent. There are elaborate sequences of sadism, punctuated by unexpected bouts of humour.
Check out the brutal slaying of the hero's funny friend, or the 'comic-relief' appearance of the natural-born scene stealer Rajpal Yadav in the second- half (replete with a sly reference to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas").
The film re-defines popular mass-oriented action genre and positions Mohit Ahlawat as the latest action hero in the tradition of Dharmendra and Akshay Kumar.
"I've seen such things happening in films, but not in real life," grins the girl hidden away in the jungle with the fugitive hero.
Real life is as far removed from "James" as cinematically possible. "James" dares to take on the formulistic system of filmmaking and turns it on its head.
Subversive formulism doesn't make a completely riveting film. But it sure leaves us staring at what could possibly be the first new-millennium super-hero in Bollywood who salutes Superman's heroic spirit.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2