Another thriller about cops and goons set in the Mumbai underworld? Yes, pretty much so. But Shootout at Wadala is more than just a series of action scenes strung together with the purpose of revealing the many dangers that lurk in mafia land.
As far as the plot goes, the film does not proffer much that has not been seen before. But director Sanjay Gupta brings a degree of flair and finesse to the table and gives the hackneyed and violent story a sustained edge that is difficult to ignore.
Shootout at Wadala is a hyper-dramatized and stylized cinematic version of what is essentially a journalistic account (taken from S Hussain Zaidi’s book Dongri to Dubai) of the rise and fall of a Mumbai mafia don in the 1970s and 1980s.
With many dates, ranging from the 1970s all the way to January 1982, thrown into the narrative to create the film’s historical context, Shootout at Wadala freely fictionalizes details drawn from the police files.
The film scores on two fronts – the niftily choreographed action sequences and the sharply written dialogues (Milan Milap Zaveri). But in both respects, a tendency to err on the side of excess mars the overall impact.
The action, although filmed in a manner that is raw and authentic, tends to get a touch monotonous after the first few set pieces have done their bit.
The dialogues are hard-hitting in parts, but occasionally go overboard with the cuss words. Expletives have really lost their ability to shock – in Shootout at Wadala they raise a few laughs.
The laboured comedy is out of place in a two-and-a-half-hour film replete with high-voltage action sequences interspersed with dramatic confrontation scenes that keep it on the boil all the way through.
The well-calibrated and explosive climax provides a fitting finale to the blood-soaked crime drama and makes up for some of the more slipshod portions.
Shootout at Wadala is enlivened by a clutch of solid performances. At one end are the men in uniform (Anil Kapoor, Mahesh Manjrekar, Ronit Roy), at the other the gangsters (John Abraham, Manoj Bajpayee, Sonu Sood, Tusshar Kapoor).
A sense of déjà vu is inevitable. Yet Shootout at Wadala delivers many an ace in terms of style. Premises of a jail, congested bylanes, seedy gangland hideouts, and sordid brothels and police vans are Sanjay Gupta’s favourite sites and they serve to enhance the noir feel of the film.
This is Gupta’s first film in eight years – his last directorial outing was the derivative dark thriller Zinda – and his storytelling methods are still as dry as gunpowder.
Shootout at Wadala has the makings of a blockbuster, but unlike many Mumbai films that are part of the 100-crore club, it has a logical core that, despite relying on many of the conventions of commercial Hindi cinema, does not degenerate into outright pulp.
If there is a major weakness in the film, it must be the fact that John Abraham plays the central character and is called upon to carry the venture on his shoulders. He is in virtually every frame of Shootout at Wadala.
He plays Manya Surve, a college student who, after a murder rap and an escape from prison, rose to challenge the dominant underworld gang of the era and was eventually killed in a police encounter, the first-ever recorded in the city’s crime history.
Abraham goes all out as a tough-as-nails criminal (warding off rivals and cops alike) and a genteel lover (wooing, losing and reclaiming Kangana Ranaut), but the pressures of the histrionic range that he must traverse leave him groping for the right emotive chords at times.
Mercifully, the cast of Shootout at Wadala has a couple of seasoned actors who never seem to falter – Anil Kapoor (ACP Afaaque Bhagran, Manya’s principal tormentor) and Manoj Bajpayee (Zubair Imtiaz Haskar, a character modelled on Dawood Ibrahim).
Add to that the presence of Sonu Sood (Zubair’s younger brother, Dilawar), who, too, is in fine fettle, and you have a drama that has the acting firepower to blast its way through trouble.
Thrills of the cheaper variety are provided by not one, not two, but three item girls – Priyanka Chopra (Babli badmaash), Sunny Leone (Laila) and Sophie Chaudhry (Aala re aala).
These raunchy numbers are fillers unabashedly designed to provide eye candy relief from all the virility on show and, therefore, add no real intrinsic value to the film. But they do not get on the nerves quite in the manner that item numbers tend to do.
Shootout at Wadala captures the grit and grime of the mean streets to perfection thanks to the classy camerawork of DOP Sameer Arya and additional DOP Sanjay F. Gupta.
The film is generally entertaining without attaining the sort of innate quality that could attract favourable comparisons with Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and Company or Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda. But that could hardly be a reason to write off the film.