Of the dozens of Hindi movies that are remakes of titles originally made in South India, only a handful truly stand out. Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam (1968), Akshay Kumar in Bhul Bhullaiya (2007), Amir Khan in Ghajini (2008) and Ajay Devgan in Singham (2010) are on the short list of decent-to-wonderful intra-Indian entries. Outside of Salman Khan movies that are also re-makes (Wanted, Ready, Body Guard), most of the remakes are not even box office hits. That, however, does not the stem the traffic flow. By that measurement, and depending entirely on perspective, the fair to middling entry Tevar, a remake the 2003 Telugu hit Okkadu, can be called a modest success.
Political corruption is the sin that keeps on giving for script-writers. The slippery slope of the fall from political grace has case in point two bigwig brothers turfed out somewhere in the New Delhi hinterland. Mahendar Singh (Sharma), the older brother, is a rule-bending state minister. Compared to his younger brother Gajendar Singh (Bajpai), however, Mahendar is a model politician. Gajendar is notoriously lecherous, ill-tempered and lives to pilfer nice things by flaunting his older brother’s long, dirty-handed reach.
One nice thing Gajendar spots, and of course must have, is the college student Radhika (Sinha). Gajendar will go to extreme ends to force Radhika’s hand in marriage. On the other side of town, meanwhile, the local kabaddi champion and likeable slouch Pintoo (Kapoor), while out playing hooky, spots Gajendar abusing Radhika and comes to her rescue. This only invites a hyper-violent chase by Gajendar and his goons. And the game is afoot.
The rare use of kabaddi as a channel for physical contact and show of strength is in itself noteworthy. The South Asian field sport of kabaddi falls at the intersection of a tug of war pitting one player who chants “kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi” non-stop against an entire opposing team and wrestling while either rushing, dragging or being dragged by the opponents to the finish line.
Kabaddi is also the national sport of Bangladesh and Nepal and the state sport for several Indian states including Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra and Bihar. As popular as this sport is at the local level, it gets out-muscled by cricket, which carries more political weight and bigger TV draws. The most famous Hindi movie scene featuring kabaddi framed Dilip Kumar winning at the sport at a village joust in an exciting scene in Gunga Jumna, all the way back in 1964.
In Tevar, kabaddi soon gives way to cross-country chase scenes by foot, motorcycle, rickshaw and trucks. The chase scenes are deftly handled and actually fun to watch. The cat and mouse posturing is balanced by plausible will-they-won’t-they bureaucratic involvement by the local cops, led by police chief Shukla (Babbar), who also happens to be Pintoo’s father. Kapoor and Sinha make good as possible lovers on the lam. A pleasant surprise is newcomer Dutta, who plays a pivotal role as the stakes mount.
Even though newbie director Sharma has ample resources, thanks to producer Boney Kapoor, who is also Arjun Kapoor’s father, a sizable chunk of the budget is, alas, spent on showcasing a handful of songs that are energetic, club-centric and yet not all that appealing. A more compact soundtrack, lesser reliance on English language phrases in Hindi language songs and better dance choreography would have surely boosted Tevar’s box-office.
The real treat, however, is Bajpai as a petulant man-child that will just not learn to get along.
Bajpai’s Gajendar spends about thirty minutes of screen time in nothing but bony knees and boxer shorts—the former to showcase his humble roots and the later as an act of defiance for being either beaten up or outfoxed by Pintoo once too often. Coupled with Bajpai’s semi-nude outdoor bathing scenes in the epic Gangs of Wasseypur, the heavy-hitting 2012 entry that finally got its North American big-screen release recently, Bajpai can be anointed as something of a middle-aged sex-symbol. And like he did with Gangs of Wasseypur, Bajpai’s wily, amoral and so-well-acted villain once again makes it the sole reason to see the movie.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.