At one point in R Chandru’s period action Kannada drama Kabzaa, its hero Arkeshwara (Upendra) says that he likes silence. He seems perfectly serious while saying it, so one can only assume that he’s stating the truth. If so, this isn’t a film that Arkeshwara will approve of — no, not at all — because it has everything but silence. Kabzaa is a mishmash of every tired trope that you can come up with. Mother sentiment? Got it. Rich father-in-law versus poor son-in-law? Got it. Good man turned bad by circumstances? Got it. Guns, guns and more guns? Got it. Item song? But of course! And it’s all hammered into your brain with a background score that makes living next to an industrial construction site sound heavenly.
The film opens with Bhargava Bakshi (Kiccha Sudeepa), a supercop, showing off some swag to history-sheeters. He then embarks on a LONG story about the greatest gangster of all time. Bakshi would have probably had a bright career as a theatre actor who specialised in Greek plays — such is the length of this never-ending monologue which is basically the entire film. He starts telling the hapless rowdies about two brothers who were the sons of a freedom fighter. It’s the origin story of Arkeshwara, a pilot in the Airforce who becomes a criminal in the 1970s after his brother’s murder.
Now the staging of this murder is a great opportunity for the filmmaker to indulge in some populist Islamophobia. There’s a deranged Muslim mobster called Khaleed, who seems to own several butcher shops in the region. His soon to be son-in-law is also a deranged Muslim man, and the latter decides to randomly kill an elderly woman on her wedding anniversary. Seriously, how lazy can the writing get? If you want to conform to the Bad Muslim stereotype, at least put some effort into it? But that’s perhaps asking for the moon because this is a film where one of the villains walks around with a fur coat and no shirt (it’s a tropical country, he’s excused) and has "CRUEL" tattooed on his cheek. You know, just in case you somehow thought he was a nice man.
Upendra is all thunder and lightning as Arkeshwara but for a film with a budget of Rs 120 crore, it is tragic that they couldn’t give him a better wig. The inspirations from the KGF films are glaringly obvious — from the English dialogues and costumes to the landscapes, colour palette, editing and even plot points. Shriya Saran plays Madhumathi, a princess who wears a lot of pretty jewellery but spends most of her time moping around because of her rich daddy (Murali Sharma) and boyfriend Arkeshwara who is into beheading people. If she had a cheek tattoo, it would have read "SAD".
There is a lot of violence in Kabzaa. Heads rolling, children being set on fire, people buried to their necks and then getting shot at. It’s also mindless violence — made to look cool and casual, as if our hero is just playing a really bloodthirsty video game. In one scene, the dead body of a man hangs from a flying helicopter and we’re supposed to be wowed. The lack of thought that has gone into conceiving these stunt sequences is another sore point. Take, for instance, this very helicopter. It transports a bunch of hoodlums into a prison — but they also cut the power because it’s supposed to be a secret, surprise attack. Hmm, surely, the noise of a helicopter in 1970s India would be fairly audible? What does everyone think it is? A noisy, plus-sized crow?
The lip-sync is off in quite a few places, and this is a common problem in wannabe pan-Indian films that simply cast actors from multiple industries and release the film simultaneously in many languages. But what’s most disappointing about Kabzaa is the sheer unoriginality, its copy-paste template that takes the viewer for granted. This film could have been set at any time period and anywhere, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. It is about nothing, it wants to say nothing, and it leaves us feeling nothing. Shivarajkumar’s cameo is welcomed by the audience with thunderous applause — but we will only get to see more of him in Kabzaa 2. How much more damage to the ears can one take?