Cast:Sonu Sood, Naseerudin Shah, Neha Dhupia
Trigger-happy Mumbai cops gunning for gory glory have been the subject of many a Bollywood action flick of the past decade and a bit. This one promises the maximum. Does it deliver? Not quite. Maximum bites off far more than it can comfortably chew.
The film is primarily about the power struggles that rage in the innards of the Mumbai police force and the heavy toll of life and limb the battles take, both in the immediate context and in the long run.
Maximum doesn’t stop there. It adds many other thematic strands to the cop-versus-cop tale, to its own detriment.
It touches upon the divide that runs deep between locals and outsiders in India’s maximum city, the runaway greed of the builders’ mafia, the increasingly dodgy role of the media in matters political and criminal, and the nexus between segments of the movie industry and the high and mighty in the law enforcement establishment.
The film, however, does not sufficiently build upon any of these topical themes to make them a meaningful part of the screenplay.
Maximum opens in 2003, when dance bars were very much a part of the Mumbai landscape (it gives the film a pretext for an item number) and the police brass were close to ending the underworld’s stranglehold on the city, and closes in 2008, the year of the 26/11 terror attack.
In the five years in between, two Mumbai encounter cops are locked in a bitter and eventually self-defeating turf war that pans out against the backdrop of fierce intra-departmental politicking.
Their rivalry is fanned by the machinations of self-serving politicos, smarmy construction industry players, and a shadowy network of underworld collaborators and informers.
Several of the film’s characters are clearly modelled on real-life figures that have hogged newspaper headlines in the last decade and a bit.
Yet the narrative, despite its consistent emphasis on understatement as a stylistic device, feels and sounds a little too synthetic and facile at times to ring true.
Maximum is a case of too much blood and blabber being wasted on a tale that has been flogged to death to such an extent that it is probably now a veritable carcass rotting in the Bollywood sun. No amount of social and political layering can dispel the rancid odour.
Maximum lacks the nuanced detailing and the urgent pacing that should have automatically sprung from a theme yanked out of the internal files of a highly politicised police force.
Director Kabeer Kaushik’s 2005 debut feature, Sehar, the story of a tough-as-nails police officer out to nail Lucknow’s crime lords, was marked by sustained grit and vigour.
Living up to its title, the film had raised hopes of a new dawn. Maximum falls way short: it does not turn out to be a morning bright and sunny enough to spread all-round cheer.
The inevitable problem with a police drama set in Mumbai is the instant sense of déjà vu it generates. It doesn’t help that Maximum is an unambiguous nod to Ab Tak Chappan, one of the better specimens of this cinematic genre.
When the older cop, played with customary panache by Naseeruddin Shah, is asked how many people he has felled thus far in encounters, fake or otherwise, his nonchalant answer is chappan (fifty six).
Naseer’s Arun Inamdar is a peevish and cynical veteran who has seen it all but is in no mood to slow down. He is now with the ant-terror squad.
The other man in the muddle is Pratap Pandit (Sonu Sood), a crime branch officer twelve years Inamdar’s junior and just as impulsive.
The two men, with the tacit approval of their immediate bosses, go on a competitive killing spree on the mean streets in a bid to expand their respective sphere of influence. Inamdar is a son of the soil; Pandit is from Lucknow, the son of an English literature professor (Rajendra Gupta).
When one kills two men, the other dispatches four to their death, a voice over informs the viewer.
A soft-spoken but ambitious North Indian politician, Mrityunjay Tiwari (Vinay Pathak) – no prizes for guessing who the inspiration is – tells a young television journalist, Ashwin Singh (Amit Sadh), that Mumbai has space for everybody but it never wholeheartedly embraces an outsider.
The thought is left dangling tantalizingly in midair. You want Maximum to walk further down that path and probe the political ramifications of the oft-asked question of who really belongs to Mumbai. Sadly, the film is too busy pushing up the body count to care about a conundrum that really counts.
But all said and done, Maximum isn’t a washout – not by a long chalk. It is well crafted and superbly acted. Sonu Sood in particular leaves a lasting impression as the police officer under fire for excesses committed in the line of duty.
The cameos by Vinay Pathak and Rajendra Gupta are impressive. Sadly, the effort is maximum, the impact not quite so.