Review: D-Day takes Bollywood action films to new heights
Bollywood directors often can’t help themselves. Even when tackling gritty real-life stories in films such as the recently released Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run Milkha Run) -- the inspirational story of legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh who witnessed his parents being slaughtered during the partition of India and Pakistan and went on to bring home sporting glory –- characters often burst into song.
While some may argue that this Bollywood narrative style is an essential element of films from that part of the world, it is often an unnecessary diversion that stops short of making films such as ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ brilliant.
Director Nikhil Advani, who’s made lots of films with songs and dances, knows this. And that’s why his gritty espionage thriller D-Day is like a breath of fresh air.
There are songs, mind you, and dances too, but they all fall into a neat package in this taut drama that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout its 140 minutes’ run time.
India’s biggest international export Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi) plays Wali Khan, a member of the country’s elite intelligence agency called RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) who’s been sent to Pakistan to report on the activities of his country’s most wanted man, nicknamed Goldman, played by a menacing Rishi Kapoor.
After nine years, three other agents played by Arjun Rampal, Huma Qureshi and Aakash Dahiya are sent to assist Khan in a mission to the bring Goldman to India. Of course, on D-Day (also a reference to real-life criminal Dawood Ibrahim, whose crime syndicate is often called D-Company) the well-etched plan goes very wrong, and Goldman manages to escape.
To avoid embarrassment and not willing to risk an already frail relationship with Pakistan, the Indian government denies any involvement with the incident and disowns the agents. Stuck, and hunted by the Pakistani government and Goldman’s men, the four must fight for redemption or die.
Advani does not rest and deftly moves through the story without losing steam. In the process, he manages to extract some fine performances from all his actors.
Khan, as an agent torn between love of country and the new life he’s set up in Pakistan with his wife and young son, oozes the right amount of vulnerability and strength, while Rampal, as Captain Rudra Pratab, shines as a brooding, merciless agent who unwittingly falls in love with a prostitute, played by Shruti Haasan. Kapoor’s portrayal of Goldman is a joy to watch: He’s a menacing mass murderer one minute, a pious man the next and then a doting father, nuances only an actor of his calibre can master, including the signature red shades he wears throughout.
But the film’s stand-out performance is by newbie Shriswara (who also had a bit role in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) as Wali Khan’s wife whose simple life is shattered after she finds out her husband’s true identity. Shouldering some of the film’s most emotional moments with sensitivity and believability, this new actress is definitely one to watch.
Advani also takes action to new heights in this film. As if deliberately restraining himself, it’s not always guns-blaring. But when shots are fired, not a bullet seems unnecessary and when the punches come, they come down hard and real. For this, he had the help of Hollywood stunt director Thomas Struthers, whose credits include Inception and The Dark Knight.
Alas, it’s not all smooth sailing for D-Day. Advani, like many of his peers in the industry, falls (briefly) into that Bollywood song trap. There is a very weird scene in the film, which is both a gruesome murder scene and a song sequence. Perhaps Advani was trying to move the story along but what we end up seeing is a very sad song pictured on a woman being violently assaulted – and all in slow motion. It’s as if Advani is romanticising the violence as mirrors break and blood splatters across the room.
But he quickly redeems himself, picking up pace before you know it and throws in a gotcha twist, or two, in the end. Suffice to say, it ends with a nice Bollywood flourish.
Not that you’d mind. Because by then Advani has already convinced you that he’s just taken the industry one step ahead.