A super-cop and his team of ATS associates get to know of a planned series of terrorist attacks in Kolkata in the vein of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. They pull all stops when the terrorists target the luxury hotel when the cop’s daughter is having her birthday party.
Story: SOS Kolkata follows the beats of a ‘70s Bollywood action film so faithfully you might forget the action extravaganza, directed by Bengali filmmaker Anshuman Pratyush, is set in 2018 Kolkata, where terrorists are attempting to recreate something akin to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The film follows Anti-Terrorism Squad agent Zakir Ahmed as he endeavours to thwart every terrorist activity in and around the city.
If you are immune to broad-stroke filmmaking, it’s best to declare in the beginning that SOS Kolkata is as emphatic as it gets. Right off the bat, we are introduced to the template brooding hero Zakir Ahmed (Yash) who sends his daughter off to live with her grandparents after an epiphany about the dangers associated with the job of an ATS field agent.
The film begins in 2009, a year after the Mumbai attacks, where Zakir loses his wife Sanjana (Mimi Chakraborty) to a bomb blast. She dies in the arms of her beloved in the middle of the forest with the hero, not moving an inch to take her to a hospital. In fact, the moments leading up to her death are even more divorced from logic. While on duty, he could very well be Tarzan himself and you wouldn’t know the difference by the way he dangles from trees in pitch darkness with absolute abandon.
Of course, he is a cop, so he rejects protocol and undertakes an anti-terrorist mission while being accompanied by an unarmed civilian, his wife no less. Civilians take up arms several times in the movie. How they intuitively counterattack in the face of such abject violence, or source and operate firearms is immaterial in this universe. Thus, at different junctures, the line between aspirational civilian contribution to such missions and bollocks get severely blurred.
We are also introduced to the other key player in this chain of events, Amanda Jones (Nusrat Jahan). She is a former hacker-turned-ATS data specialist, but since subtlety is not the forte of SOS Kolkata, Jones wears a black beanie in peak summer heat. She also combats gunmen in satin attire, but at least, she isn’t forced to run in heels.
To aid our understanding of how ATS decrypts complex codes (yes, sarcasm!), scenes are interspersed with static noises, distorted images and flashes of random alphabets on-screen. Visual cues are offered at many junctures until the intended information is unequivocally hammered home.
There is also a significant Kuch Kuch Hota Hai hangover, that fans of pulpy Bollywood films would identify in a breath. Sanjana’s apparition shows up at crucial junctures in the movie in pristine white clothing, smiling calmly while offering nuggets of wisdom to her husband about holding on to family and self-preservation.
Our hero is also a family man, estranged from his daughter for nine years. He requests his parents-in-law to hide his identity from the daughter in case she ever becomes a target for criminals. However, he is a softie at heart, so he sneakily watches his daughter celebrating her birthday on his phone, and sends her gigantic toys to compensate for the lack of his physical presence. Schmaltz is what you get in generous portion sizes, routinely reminding viewers that the hero is worth rooting for.
To pump the film with nationalistic fervour, SOS Kolkata plays out to disturbingly thumping music almost unsuitable for intimate web viewing. The terrorists are as generic as you would expect them to be, grunting ‘ asli sabak sikhayenge’ (will teach them a real lesson) and ‘patake phodenge’ (will burst crackers) the few times we witness them exchanging words.
All the middling fare amounts to the done-to-death good Muslim versus bad Muslim trope, where the token good Muslim offers pedantic insights into the teachings of Islam. He also lists the achievements of Muslim dignitaries and celebs to drive the point home that he does not crave for ‘jannat’ (paradise). Here, the problem isn’t the intent, it is the fact that Muslims are required to prove their ‘patriotism to the motherland’. By showing a Muslim man constantly breaking into jingoistic mumbo jumbo, the film ends up establishing that a minority community is always required to participate in a majority discourse in order not to be labelled anti-national.
This is not to say that there is nothing redeeming about the film. The stylised action sequences inside the fictional Chariot Hotel premises are self-indulgently choreographed, and the catchy music and sharp cinematography keep the audience at the tenterhooks in the final act of the film. There are genuine moments of shock and fear when the hostages, that includes a pregnant woman, slither out of the hotel using an abandoned staircase. Yash and Nusrat prove their body muscles are more mobile than the ones on their face, but mainstream action films are hardly ever pinnacles of great filmmaking or acting.
Verdict: SOS Kolkata is not for the lovers of nuance or logic. While the first half is unbearably long, the second part picks up the pace and ties the loose strands of the film as neatly as one would expect. It’s not an assault on the senses, akin to the many John Abraham offerings from last year, from Romeo Akbar Walter, Force 2 to Satyamev Jayate. But it is perhaps safer to take those rose-tinted glasses and stick them on with superglue to truly enjoy this run-of-the-mill ride.