EK VILLAIN. Director: Mohit Suri. Players: Siddharth Malhotra, Riteish Deshmukh, Shraddha Kapoor, Shaad Randhawa, Remo Fernandez. Music: Ankit Tiwari, Mithoon. Hindi with Eng. Sub-tit. Theatrical release (Balaji Films).

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Mohit Suri’s success with the sequels Raaz: The Mystery Continues (2009), Murder 2 (2011) and especially with the blockbuster Aashique 2 (2013) helped raise the young director’s profile into phenom filmmaker. In the wake of that success and aided by Suri’s affiliation with Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt (Suri is their nephew), Suri landed the much-anticipated Ek Villain. Bringing to fore the fast-climbing Malhotra (Student of the Year, Hasee To Phasee) and Kapoor (Aashique 2), Ek Villain, while shiny in its production delivery occasionally trips on its own tension-building tripwires to emerge merely as a lukewarm suspense thriller.

The script, co-written by Tushar Hiranandani and Milap Zaveri, is clever enough in drawing two overtly grey-shaded characters. Guru (Malhotra) is a strong-arming detective with a violent past. When a serial killer’s brutal killing spree grips a city, Guru and his team come under tremendous pressure to catch the killer. It is only with a stroke of luck that the cops eventually tie the killings to the otherwise non-descript desk-jockey Rakesh Mahadkar (Deshmukh), a meek working-class nobody by day and a homicidal maniac by night.

But wait, that is only half the story. The other half involves Aisha Verma (Kapoor), a social worker who draws the stoic Guru out of self-imposed hard shell long enough to fall in love in him. Guru and Aisha’s lives take a swift and unexpected turn as the serial killer sets his eyes on Aisha.

A deadly cat and mouse game sets in as Guru tries to snare Mahadkar into an ever-tightening and violent loop.

Even though the narrative unfolds through numerous flashbacks that recount the lives of more than one of the killer’s victims, the sub-plots get on the exact parallel groove in a surprisingly seamless fashion. The crux of the action, however, doesn’t get truly going until Mahadkar shows up. Profiling the killer’s mind and motivations provide enough leads and misleads, including suspicion that Guru’s former underworld handler Caesar (Fernandez) may be involved.

The story is passable, even though it bears more than a passing resemblance to the 2010 Korean thriller I Saw the Devil. Kapoor’s Aisha strikes the right balance between her social worker outreaches and keeping her love life in check. As protagonist and antagonist, respectively, Malhotra and Deshmukh are roped into roles that are not their career primary colors. Malhotra is the dashing newcomer previously only found in edgy romantic roles and not edgy violent roles. Deshmukh’s forte has been comedy where he is group-cast in slapstick matinee entries (Humshakals, Housefull) often as a mere prop.

So what’s missing? Actually, it’s the sense that it is all too convenient. The pieces fall into place way too smugly for the story to gel—but not the movie. The unspooling of various plot elements—affairs, friendships, careers—that emerge unfulfilled leave behind a void that has more to do with the delivery than how the story ends.

The mother-daughter team of Shobha Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor—they are wife and daughter, respectively, of popular veteran actor Jeetendra—have created a noteworthy mini-kingdom in Hindi movies. The Kapoors, (no relation to Shraddha Kapoor), under their Balaji Films label, are easily the most powerful behind-the-camera women in Hindi movies currently. Their signature on some of the most popular Hindi language TV soaps and movies (Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai Dobara, The Dirty Picture, Ek Thi Daayan and Lootera) has increased their reach even farther.

Plot connivances and storyline smugness aside, Tiwari and Mithoon’s soundtrack has raced up the charts. Mohd Irfan’s “Banjaraa” and Mustafa Zahid’s “Zaroorat” are lush ballads held together by simple melodies. For their part, the Kapoors are marketing aces.

Their bankrolling of Ek Villain, heavily boosted by pre-selling of the hit musical score, has garnered Ek Villain the biggest opening and one of the biggest overall box office takes in 2014. It all proves that smart selling and smart music still can outsell an overall lacking movie.

EQ: B –

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

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