The Sanjay Gupta directorial works as a passable redemption drama solely due to Hrithik Roshan's acting mettle
Last Updated: 04.18 AM, Jan 26, 2022
There was one phase in Indian cinema when it was always an actor's dream to play a visually impaired character in their careers. The 1960s, 70s were full of instances where blind men/women were an integral part of films. Such films were popular but visual impairment was more so a tool to evoke sympathy, excepting a rare case like Sparsh (where the protagonist made it clear that he didn't need extra care).
However, over the years, Hindi cinema, in specific, had distanced itself from stories with visually blind characters in the forefront. Either they didn't have enough sensitivity or the apt story to get their act right. Kaabil came at a time when stars were more comfortable playing larger-than-life roles with greater commercial appeal and aura.
Trust Hrithik Roshan to go against the grain and emerge successful. The indifference with which the promos of the Sanjay Gupta directorial were viewed before its release is still afresh in my mind. Not many gave it a chance to stand tall against SRK's Raees, easily the more mainstream film, on a Republic Day weekend in 2016 and Kaabil managed to trump everyone's expectations.
Hrithik desperately needed Kaabil to work more than anyone else, especially after a drubbing like Mohenjo Daro. It's the first-ever film where the actor had hired an acting coach, who had stayed with him through the sets. He was desperately looking to give a new dimension to his portrayal of a visually impaired man and it's such a relief to see a major star like him shed his ego, unlearn and relearn his craft all over again.
The efforts do reflect on the screen. At no point does Hrithik as Rohan makes the character feel vulnerable. Unlike his earlier films where he was overly particular and showy about his histrionics, body language, he was at ease with himself in Kaabil. One could sense that the effortlessness in the performance had to do more so with the way he internalised the character psychologically.
Kaabil is a hard-core redemption drama where Sanjay Gupta drives the story through the lens of a much-in-love couple, Rohan Bhatnagar and Supriya Sharma, both of whom happen to be blind. Rohan decides to take charge of the antagonist when he realises that his wife, who commits suicide, had been raped twice. What would essentially be a character's weakness turns out to be his strength in this dark story.
If the first hour is a complete Hrithik show and sets up the foundation for the conflict, the director Sanjay Gupta appears more in control of the proceedings in the latter portions, complemented by Vijay Kumar Mishra's gripping screenplay. The story uses Rohan's profession, as a voice-over artiste, as his trump card in the hour of crisis and the see-saw between Hrithik, Ronit Roy and Rohit Roy makes for a compelling watch.
The filmmaking, especially in the earlier half of Kaabil, feels old-school and the on-screen romance between Hrithik, Yami and the lack of chemistry sticks out like a sore thumb. The plot gathers momentum when Rohan plots his revenge against the baddie and uses every trick in the system to escape scot-free.
The film certainly can't be termed a must-watch, but watch it for how Hrithik finds his feet and submits him earnestly to a role that could've easily taken the melodramatic route. The rare and even unexpected collaboration between Sanjay Gupta and Hrithik Roshan yields interesting results. Perhaps, it's the success of Kaabil that gave Hrithik the confidence to play an underdog hero to perfection and do a Super 30 sans apprehension.
(Kaabil is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar)