Sadak 2 Review: The First Film Mahesh Bhatt Has Directed in Two Decades… And it Shows

Bollywood

Sadak 2 Review: The First Film Mahesh Bhatt Has Directed in Two Decades… And it Shows

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

There is grating overacting from the very first second of Mahesh Bhatt’s disaster opus Sadak 2, a sequel to the 1991 film Sadak – a sequel for no other reason except that it can be. The film opens with a hooded Aryaa Desai (Alia Bhatt), an heiress on a vengeance trip against a campy godman (Makarand Deshpande) making her stance amply clear by scribbling the word “revenge” on a giant cutout of him at night. Just in case anyone missed the point, she also sets it on fire. Her spray paint activism might be rendered redundant with that move but as she proceeded to point her camera at it, I rested in peace knowing that at least she got an Instagram post out of the nonsense.

But not everyone thinks so: Her little stunt leads to both the godman and a hysterical woman, who turns out to be her aunt-turned-stepmother Nandini Maa (Priyanka Bose) chasing her on a deserted road. There’s some talk of Aryaa being mentally ill and on her part, she responds to the accusations by hurling a stone at Nandini’s forehead and warning that she won’t stay silent as some random men drag her away presumably to a mental hospital. Everyone else reacts by glaring way too much.

The rest of the excruciating 133 minutes of the film is designed to prove that maybe it would have been better for our sanity if she had just decided to keep quiet. Instead she decides to flee from the mental hospital, embark on a roadtrip across the country before exposing a godman who she suspects killed her mother.

The film is essentially an excuse to shout “East or west, star kids are the best”.

The death of subtlety

The action then moves on to Ravi (Sanjay Dutt), the troubled taxi driver from Sadak – a memory that Bhatt merrily exploits with ample flashbacks from the film to the point of unpleasantness – who has become aged with grief. We learn that Pooja (Pooja Bhatt), the love of his life has died, leaving him to star in his own angsty Cold/Mess music video. Bhatt takes unnecessary close-ups of a perpetually teary-eyed Dutt, who goes through the film looking like he is trying to outdo his own non-performance in Kalank, to drive home the intensity of his mourning.

Just in case anyone missed the point about him missing his dead wife, Bhatt pencils in two attempts of Ravi trying to hang himself to death – these scenes are filled with such lurid detail (at one point, the camera zooms in on the noose so violently that it almost feels like it is being objectified) that you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for Republic TV footage. It’s accompanied by arguably the most tone-deaf romanticisation of depression in recent times.

By this point, two things become clear: Mahesh Bhatt might not be the finest storyteller around and that he clearly can’t read the room. The worst part is that all of this accounts for merely 10 minutes of the whole movie.

Co-written by Bhatt and Suhrita Sengupta, Sadak 2 has no reason to exist apart from being further proof that every Aditya Roy Kapur outing is somehow worse than the previous one. Here, the impossibly muscular actor gamely takes on a new challenge, something we’ve certainly not seen him do in any film before: play an alcoholic. For reasons well outside my level of comprehension, he also turns out to be an abusive troll who comes out of jail to go on a roadtrip with his girlfriend, Aryaa.

If there’s something worse than a filmmaker with nothing to say, it’s one who deludes himself into believing that he has something to say.

A wafer-thin plot

They’re driven by Ravi, who finds some free time from his full-time job of hamming in every situation to run a taxi service. None of it makes any sense, least of all the wafer-thin plot about family betrayals, murdered mothers, online activism, and the seedy empires of brainwashing godmen. For a film that thinks it is replete with such dark suspense, Sadak 2’s inconsistent tone is laughably hollow, menacing only because it refuses to end.

Sadak 2 is also the first film that Bhatt has directed in over two decades and it shows. If there’s something worse than a filmmaker with nothing to say, it’s one who deludes himself into believing that he has something to say. The best way to describe the tortuous Sadak 2 is that it is a standard Mahesh Bhatt catchphrase disguised as a film: One that thinks it is philosophical when it is really an exercise in stringing together thoughts that have no business being strung together. The film, essentially an excuse to shout “East or west, star kids are the best” is replete with the kind of 90s’ melodrama that you’d think Bollywood films would have outgrown.

But I’m not surprised that Bhatt didn’t get the memo. What does come as a jolt is Alia Bhatt, a gifted actress, willingly wasting her own potential and reputation, in roles that have the power to make her forget her craft. The actress could do with challenging herself instead of blindly jumping at the next half-baked script narrated to her by any member of her or Karan Johar’s family. It certainly made me long for the time when family reunions could be done over vacations and not be turned into indulgent films that are to be blamed for our collective suffering. There’s a pandemic for that.

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