A remake of this standard puts the focus back of Bollywood’s incompetence, its dearth of good filmmakers and writers, and its reliance on an almost-obsolete star-driven model
Director: Ranjit M. Tewari
Screenplay: Aseem Arrora
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sargun Mehta, Rakul Preet Singh, Chandrachur Singh, Hrishitaa Bhatt, Sujith Shankar, and Joshua LeClair
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
We have managed to get hold of the makers’ 5-point checklist for this movie and here it is:
· Watch a lot of Tamil/Telugu movies and pick a popular one to remake. Check
· Set it in a misty hill station to create the eerie atmosphere of a thriller. Check
· Brutalise women in the most violent possible ways to create a hero out of the protagonist. Check
· Insert random songs and a love story that has absolutely zero relevance to the plot. Check
· Tweak everything to make it all about Akshay Kumar. Check
Arjan Sethi (Akshay Kumar), an aspiring filmmaker with a diploma in criminal psychology, who has DONE seven years of extensive research on serial killers, turns into a rookie cop after his film scripts get unceremoniously rejected because he refuses to succumb to the commercial tropes (something that ironically the makers of Cuttputlli couldn’t). He is posted to Kasauli. The quiet of the quaint town is shattered when a body of a school girl with a severely mutilated face is found. It is followed by more such defaced bodies of school girls. Arjan uses his research as a filmmaker to profile the serial killer and his out-of-the-box thinking helps the police nab the perpetrator, but not before Arjan has suffered a serious personal loss.
It is a remake of Ram Kumar’s Tamil-language crime thriller Ratsasan. More disturbing than the visuals and descriptions of the mutilated faces of the victims on screen, the Cuttputllis, is the brutal hacking of a perfectly fine movie in the name of a taut remake. It takes a special cocktail of arrogance and ignorance from the director to pull off such an act of violation. A remake of this standard puts the focus back on Bollywood’s incompetence, its dearth of good filmmakers and writers, and its reliance on an obsolete star-driven model.
The most interesting part of Cuttputlli is the wordplay in its name. But maybe Cuttcopypaste would have been more apt. It is almost a scene-by-scene copy of the 2018 Tamil hit directed by Ram Kumar, Ratsasan. But more than the copy-paste, it is the Cutt that is bothersome. Chopping a 152 minutes film to a 134-minute thriller is an interesting proposition on paper, but then even butchering needs basic knowledge of anatomy. Here the writer and the director have chopped off the good chunks in an attempt to serve lean meat. The movie just sticks to police procedures without delving into the victims’ story, the survivors’ trauma and the aftermath, the impact of the crimes, etc making it a technical tale bereft of emotions thwarting the audience from building any sort of connection with the characters.
It is interesting to note that Bollywood has not had that bad a track record when it comes to such crime thrillers, one of the best examples being Akshay Kumar’s 1999 movie Sangharsh. But more than Akshay, it was the brilliance of Ashutosh Rana as the terrifying Lajja Shankar Pandey (and that blood-curdling ululating scene) that made the movie iconic. But 23 years on, Akshay Kumar is too big a hero to have any worthy opponent even on screen. Hence, the nuanced villain with a strong backstory of the original is reduced to just another minor character. In fact, all the other characters have their story arcs clipped in order to make the hero shine.
Also, it is simply a case of lazy writing. Aseem Arrora hasn’t even bothered to customize the script and you have Rakul Preet’s character remark that Akshay looks too young to be the father of a 15-year-old. REALLY? Kumar can easily pass off even as Rakul’s dad. Vishnu Vishal was 34 when he played the same role, and hence the line worked. At 54, Akshay plays a 37-year-old in the movie, and as fit as he might be, he doesn’t look the part. Why mention age anyway when it is not even crucial to the plotline? Why this intense need to claim that one is young when just by standing in front of a mirror can give one a reality check? This along with Aamir Khan’s recent shenanigans in and as Laal Singh Chaddha focus on the serious problem of echo chambers in Bollywood– most of these ’90s stars along with their coteries are not only living in a perennial state of delusion, but they have made a continent out of it.
However, Akshay Kumar gives a restrained performance as Arjan although the character is too cut and dried for the audience to connect with. Sargun Mehta makes an impressive debut as the no-nonsense SHO Gudia Parmar. It is a character that was panned in the original for being too one-dimensional. Here the writer makes amends and the character is allowed a change of heart, albeit rather randomly. But she is not part of the main action as that belongs solely to our hero, Akshay Kumar. Rakul Preet Singh as teacher Divya and the love interest of Arjan, hardly has much to do but to look pretty, and she looks pretty. Chandrachur Singh as Narinder Singh and Hrishitaa Bhatt as Seema Singh, are good as Arjan’s brother-in-law and sister; although the characters are given an unceremonious exit mid-way to keep the focus of the story solely on Arjan. Joshua LeClair as Christopher / Agnes hardly gets 10 minutes of screen time. This is the saddest part about the movie as the villain of Ratsasan was one of the best we have seen in recent history.
The original story, written by Ramkumar, was inspired by the gruesome true crimes of Russian serial killer Alexander Spesivtsev who tortured and killed children after luring them to his house with the help of his mother. Known as the Siberian Ripper, he made news in 1996 when he was finally caught and convicted for four of the 19 murders he had confessed to.
The end result was an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a Jokeresque villain. But in the remake, this villain is put in a Procrustean bed to fit the bill of an ‘Akshay Kumar movie’.
The scenic beauty of the hill station is juxtaposed with the ugly brutalities of the crimes and is shot effectively by Rajeev Ravi. The background score by Julius Packiam, which was one of the highlights of the original and was composed by Ghibran, isn’t impressive. Then there are a few loo-break songs but since the movie is not released in the theatres, serves no purpose.
There are parts reminiscent of movies like The Shining and Psycho, but the movie doesn’t deserve a mention along with these classics, and hence won’t delve into that.
It is also a film that has an Alzheimer’s patient used for laughs (also the misogyny), there are multiple characters who are hearing impaired and the hearing aids are used as a plot device, a person with Werner syndrome, who is also from an Anglo-Indian family (a double whammy in our society) is made into an easy villain, the child molestations are shown with zero sensitivity, there are unnecessary and elaborate descriptions of brutality, but these problems don’t really impact you that much simply because you are never really invested in anything that is going on in this film.