In An Action Hero, Ayushmann Khurrana plays Maanav, an action hero who can’t commit to his bit unless he’s enraged, but is soon forced to step into an action hero’s skin because of the mess he ends up in. When Maanav accidentally "kills" an overzealous (code for intrusive) fan, he finds himself on the run from multiple adversaries.
The satire in An Action Hero focuses greatly on the almost para-social relationship that fans share with celebrities which - in the worst cases - can evolve into an entitlement into their time and space.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Bhoora (Jaideep Ahlawat). Bhoora, a local leader who follows Maanav to London, to avenge his brother’s death, somehow still finds it in himself to lecture the actor about how the public ‘makes’ an actor.
The Anirudh Iyer directorial, for its premise, is somehow even hilarious, with almost every gag (no matter how far-fetched) landing successfully, owing partly to how well-stitched the satire is and partly to the easygoing chemistry between Khurrana and Ahlawat.
The film’s exploration of how the media presents a tale that best suits its narrative, especially with a Bollywood celebrity being the TRP-pulling hook is biting, hilarious, and timely.
Headlines like ‘Naam Maanav, kaam daanav’ (human by name, demon by action) scroll below (very identifiable) yelling news anchors – the humour in this situation comes, not from the ridiculous nature but from the uncomfortable sensation that this situation is not far from the truth.
Ayushmann Khurrana as Maanav translates every bit of the film’s messaging on-screen.
While his acting seems forced when he is pretending to be a famous action star (I choose to believe this was a choice), once the film’s stakes rise, he plays the flawed but socially conscious star with ease.
His character exists in a contrast to the way the media sees the film industry – as a cesspool of drugs and crime. An Action Hero matches the pace of an action film, making it harder for the audience to dwell on logical fallacies – did Maanav just have his passport on him? How did Bhoora procure a visa so soon and seemingly take his gun with him on the flight?
The film distracts you from looking for logic by constantly introducing either a new character, arc, or gag. And as you keep laughing, the problems start to seep through the gaps.
Ahlawat as Bhoora is sinister and yet pitiful, somehow making you wonder if this antagonist is actually as invested in his mission as he is supposed to be. His dry humour while interacting with Maanav is a highlight in the film – his deadpan, yet confused expression, mirroring that of the Pakistani cricket fan meme, will leave you in splits.
The background score by Sunny MR, while loud and overbearing in bits, uses silence brilliantly; lulling the audience into a sense of calm before the storm. It is, after all, an action film. The action sequences, credited to Ian Van Temperley and Stunt Silva, are both realistic and mechanical.
While Maanav, who trained to become an action star, fights in a more performative and mechanical fashion, Bhoora, a wrestler fights with a more fluid intensity.
The film seems aware of the fact that it is placed in the same space that it is critiquing – even as Maanav dissects the media’s witch hunt, he admits that he, too, has believed everything he hears to be fact. The insertion of an underworld don seems unnecessary for the most part but it doesn’t take away from the film.
An Action Hero is driving home the point that the film’s star is not ‘above’ the audience just by virtue of being part of the industry.
The film’s music (credited to Tanishk Bagchi, Parag Chhabra, Amar Jalal, Biddu, Faridkot) is mostly made of remixes; my loyalty to old Bollywood keeps me from fully enjoying the resulting soundtrack.
A wonderful Malaika Arora cameo proves once again that she might not be Zeenat Aman but she does not have to be - because there isn’t another Malaika in the industry either.
An Action Hero makes fun of everything it can get its hands on while weaving a story worthy of its strong cast. Jaideep Ahlawat remains an actor who steals the scene every time and Ayushmann is still a star who knows how to keep the audience watching.
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