The central premise of Ungli is as unoriginal as they come: a gang of four vigilantes sets out to name, shame and tame the corrupt in the city of Mumbai after one of their own is battered in a case of road rage.
In a state of panic, the police establishment deputes an upright and headstrong cop (Sanjay Dutt) to go after the masked and mysterious citizen crusaders. How hackneyed is that!
Ungli , Rensil D'Silva's second film as director, is a lackadaisical thriller that gets its fingers into boiling hot water in trying way too hard to make the right noises.
The screenplay (by the director himself) and the dialogues (Milap Zhaveri) are stilted.
Not surprisingly, the characters are unconvincing too. And the actors - there are some competent ones in the film - are given no scope at all to rise above the morass.
The plot hinges on preposterous contrivances in its bid to expose the underbelly of a rotten system that crushes the common man under its weight.
Ungli does not gather any momentum because it isn't a single overarching embodiment of evil that the gang decides to take on.
Instead, what the film presents are several stray faces of everyday corruption.
The justice-seekers abduct the wrongdoers and take them to task in ways that are reminiscent of schoolboy pranks rather than no-nonsense sorties.
The gang's targets are revealed one by one, and the quartet takes it upon itself to set things right for the victims.
An old man is pushed around in the pension office and his file kept pending by clerks who do not lift a finger unless their palms are greased.
A smarmy politician uses his clout to flout the law and plaster the town with ugly hoardings.
A regional transport officer shells out driving licenses to all and sundry for a consideration.
An auto-rickshaw man refuses to take an old lady to Andheri West unless she pays double the legitimate fare.
A well-connected fixer sells plum postings to pliable policemen, besides stashing the lawmen's unaccounted wealth in a strong room in his residence.
But don't large swathes of the audience know these people and their ways far better and more intimately than the makers of this film ever will?
The gang of four - a television journalist (Randeep Hooda), a medical intern (Kangana Ranaut), a computer engineer (Neil Bhoopalam) and a motor mechanic (Angad Bedi) - pull off daring acts and the media gleefully laps up their pop heroism.
In due course, they are joined by a rogue policeman (Emraan Hashmi), who has been thrown out of the city's bomb squad and roped into the mission to nab the Ungli gang.
There is of course a back story to the foursome's decision to take the law into their hands. But, like everything else here, it is seriously wanting in credibility and depth.
The rest of the film delivers a whole lot of hogwash about a compromised police force and the mounting frustration of ordinary folk who must stay within the confines of the law even when they know that the rich and powerful can bend the rules at will.
With a runtime of well under two hours, Ungli is not a long film. But that does not make it any easier to sit through.
Among the few positives on view, both the editing (Deepa Bhatia) and camerawork (Hemant Chaturvedi) are first rate.
While the former keeps the film crisp and sharp, the latter lends it a distinctive visual feel.
But much of the fine technical work is wasted because the rest of Ungli never manages to point in the right directions.
Ungli has a few attributes that you will not usually encounter in a Karan Johar production. It has no big stars, no elaborate song and dance set pieces and no major love story.
But when a film is more interesting for what it isn't than for what it is, giving it a miss might be the most prudent option.