ROWDY RATHORE. Director: Prabhu Deva.
Players: Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Nasser. Music: Sajid-Wajid. Theatrical release (EROS)

Aamir Khan’s Ghajini and Salman Khan’s Wanted andBodyguard were noteworthy not for only being huge box office hits but also because they were remakes of movies from south India. Now it’s Akshay Kumar’s turn. Kumar’s first foray into remaking movies from south India was Bhool Bhullaiya (2007), which became a sizable money maker. Now Kumar returns with Rowdy Rathore, a remake of S. S. Rajamouli’s huge Telugu hit Vikaramarkudu (2006).  Noisy and over-the-top, Rowdy succeeds with light, watchable and laugh-out-loud escapist hooks.

Akshay Kumar is foremost a performer. A star second and perhaps actor some distance back. Rowdy fits the Akshay-Kumar-the-performer par excellence. Shiva (Kumar) is a small-time crook who blindingly falls for Paro (Sinha). Out of nowhere, a little girl turns and claims Shiva as her father. Suddenly, an entire village shows up convinced that Shiva is their lost villager. To add even more mystery, there is Shiva’s look-alike Vikram Rathore (also Kumar), a police inspector who appears to have landed in the cross-hairs of the wrong criminal chieftain (Nasser).

Rowdy provides Kumar a chance to return to the same roots he first cultivated in his popular Khiladi series from the 1990s. The combination of spectacular action and romantic comedy served Kumar extremely well during those early years. Kumar’s Shiva, the ace village bumpkin, is a superb throwback to a comedy style pioneered by Raj Kapoor (Awaara) and Bachchan (Namak Halaal). Shiva crashes a wedding, wears Ray Ban sunglasses and, when put on the spot, can spill out a peculiar vernacular of country-fied Indian English. The “Don’t Angry Me!” proclamation in the movie’s publicity poster is but a token of Shiva’s many profoundly upcountry desi battle cries.

Sinha has climbed to a remarkable high in the short stance since her sensational debut in Dabangg (2010). With only her second release in Rowdy, she comes across well-poised, polished and also a decent dancer—never mind that there is no mention of what her character does for a living. Matching wits with Kumar onscreen in each of Kumar’s dual roles is veteran south Indian character actor Nasser. Nasser’s all-purpose village usurper and mega-lecherous villain Baapji is the easy-to-hate caricature of evil. Matching Kumar step by step with his mis-adventurous, Nasser’s Baapji is a one-man dynamo.

A notable bow that Rowdy rolls out is an homage to the lost proto-Bollywood era of hand-painted publicity posters, some of which were artistic masterpieces sprawled out over 100 feet wide mega-billboard spanning major traffic intersection in India in their hey day. With their over-sized paint strokes of primary colors and highly evocative visuals, the best posters from that era were a sure-fire matinee guarantee for promising a primordial melodrama in an ancient, pre-internet epoch. The Rowdy poster does just that for the digital age!

The music composing team of brothers Sajid Ali and Wajid Ali has been a fixture in Salman Khan movies since their debut in “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya” (1998). That partnership culminated with the mega-successful Dabangg score. In Rowdy, their Chamak Challo ditty brings back Kumar Sanu for a duet with Shreya Ghosal, the top female playback singer in Hindi films currently. The soundstrack, much like the rest of Rowdy Rathore, is over the top and somehow, we don’t mind.

Director Prabhu Deva is a gifted filmmaker, actor and perhaps an even better choreographer.  He has a knack for capturing action choreography as if it is a dance—which, if one pauses, it truly is. While at least some of the action turns on invisible-cable, giant monkey-style leaps, there is still enough left to the imagination to make the action scenes here a visual treat. Prabhu Deva captured this style with the successful Salman Khan-entry Wanted and does so again here. This Rowdy rules!

EQ:  B

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