INSAN. Director: K. Subhash. Players: Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, Tusshar Kapoor, Eesha Deol, Lara Dutta, Laila, Rahul Dev. Music: Himesh Reshammiya. Theatrical release.

Director K. Subhash is a Tamil film specialist best known for mythological-sounding titles (Brahma, Pavithra). Producer Keshu Ramsay (along with Ramsay Brothers) made his mark (and a tidy bundle) by transforming a series of kitschy horror entries (Haveli, Dak Bangla, Mera Shikar) into an ’80s cult phenomenon. The unlikely union of the two has resulted in a breathtakingly breezy, fast-paced action thriller that is nothing short of a B-movie that elevates kitschy production to eye-popping notoriety. No B movie with an A cast has nailed this much credibility since the cheapie Raaz unleashed supernatural havoc at the box office in 2003.

Any script that taps into such a combustible amalgamation of hot-button contemporary topics has guts. We have a shadowy, borderless Islamist terrorist group that stakes an affinity with the events of Sept. 11. The same group may also have a hand in the recent Gujarat train riots that resulted in sectarian bloodshed. Not to lollygag on subtleties—just in case IQ levels drop and we miss Big Points made so far—the same group of lowlifes also takes hostage a trainload of passengers and the passengers turn on their hijackers an instant before, … well, you catch the drift.
On the other side of the boxing rink are the good guys. There is a hot-headed cop (Devgan) with a vendetta up his sleeve. There is an underachieving auto-ricksha driver (Kumar) who befriends a struggling actor (Kapoor). The cop takes shine to a television reporter (Dutta), the auto-ricksha ruffian chases after his landlord’s feisty daughter (Deol), while the two-bit actor matches strides with a starlet (Laila).

Ramsay’s touch is evident in the fistfights and ghetto foot-chases that employ a yellowish-glare captured by hastily arranged, strangely congruent camera angles. While no one would mistake the Subhash-Ramsay style with camerawork by Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, or Ram Gopal Varma, the duo perfectly captures contemporary urban anxieties. Subhash also adds a regional flair best evidenced in the picturization of the catchy “Chunnari” song. Watching Kumar and Deol frolic in excessively bright yellow dupattas, complete with matching footsteps, is reminiscent of those hyper-paced Jeetendra-Sridevi big gigs (Himmatwalla, Mawaali) that were a brief rage in the early ’80s. The only thing missing are the brightly colored stacks of clay pots strewn along a sandy beach.

Acting kudos go to Rahul Dev in the role of the terrorist gang leader. Dev’s facial expressions project a highly volatile misguided visionary who will stop at nothing to bounce his equally unscrupulous comrade jailed in Mumbai. Dev’s baddie cashing in on a serious case of mistaken identity (it matters not that the entire free world is onto this dupe at least a full hour before our brave onscreen heroes catch on) is a classic B-movie twist nicely milked here.

Moviemaking is an inexact art that mirrors contemporary sensibilities and fears. That said, because some dialog too uncannily resembles a plausible, albeit conjectured, Sept. 11 hijacker script, Insan is bound to ruffle some feathers. The filmmaker’s heart, however, is in the right place. Given the subject matter, the relatively low body count (“relatively” is used, well, relatively loosely here) offers at least some plausible deniability. Who would ever have thought that watching the good guys kick terrorist butt could offer this much guilty pleasure?

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.