Salman Khan delivers his most "heroic" performance, molded firmly within escapist cinema.

Well before the release of Wanted, the movie’s strong and evenly loud promotions made it abundantly clear what to expect from it – action bent towards exaggeration and characters that are wild caricatures. In this, the movie does not disappoint. For those averse to its lead star, Salman Khan, or “Bollywood Masala” movies, Wanted can be punishing. Fans can rejoice though, as Salman Khan possibly delivers the most heroic performance of his career yet, molded firmly within escapist cinema.

The story is next to negligible. Radhe (Salman Khan), a hitman-for-hire, quickly makes a name and rises through the gang-ranks of underworld Mumbai. When a war erupts between rival gangs, Radhe drops loyalties and walks his own path – one that leaves behind a trail of blood, bodies and bullets.

Wanted marks actor-choreographer-director Prabhu Deva’s directorial venture into Bollywood. For this, he chose to remake his own Tamil-language superhit movie, Pokkiri. In doing so, he brought with him a tried and tested script and all the machinations of a mainstream production that had previously worked. Adapting it to the sensibilities of North-Indian cinema’s audience could not have been too difficult – Wanted plays through and through like a contemporary formula movie. It has the required quota of star-power, song-and-dance sequences that have been shot overseas, the right amount and range of humor (subtle to crass), a glamorous female lead, and very importantly, an interesting villain. Not much time is wasted in melodrama or establishing back-stories. Instead, Prabhu Deva gives a scene-to-scene movie that is only interested with moving forward. His intentions with the movie are made ample clear within the first few scenes – Salman Khan’s Radhe faces a score of goons in a warehouse. As he single-handedly bashes them up while the head-goon scampers like a mouse, Prabhu Deva uses freeze-frame, wire-stunts and CGI to make the violence deliberately unrealistic and cinematic, and in some occasions, humorous. The rules of the movie have been set – align your beliefs, or you might just as well walk out.

The staying power is primarily what Salman Khan brings to the movie. Arguably, the biggest “star” in Bollywood today, he carries the movie on his well-built shoulders on the basis of his charm and charisma – something he exudes in this movie without his regular garb of designer labels or spit-shine grooming. In his trademark style, Salman Khan delivers one-liners that pack as much a punch as his physical comedy. Wanted is also Salman Khan’s first action movie in over a decade, yet he eases into the role quite well, credit for which should also be shared with Prabhu Deva and his co-star, south indian veteran Prakash Raj. Portraying the main villain, National-award winner Prakash Raj’s spectacular Bollywood major-role debut as the colorful and quirky Ghani Bhai comes as a splash of cold water on the score of bland villains that Bollywood mostly burdens us with. Ghani Bhai is, as he calls himself, an “International Don” and lives as one who likes a good laugh. This doesn’t make him any less fearsome, just one who is wonderfully entertaining to watch. Prakash Raj uses wacky and exaggerated expressions for his villainous role, further steeping the movie into escapist entertainment.

Being possibly the most well-known dancer in India, Prabhu Deva does not disappoint his fans or the expectations his name sets by populating the movie with enough fast-choreographed numbers to whet anybody’s appetite. He also makes a cameo (to loud applause) along with Govinda and Anil Kapoor in a song early on in the movie, as they accompany Salman Khan and numerous back-up dancers for an elaborate routine. As a director, he enriches the movie with ample varied flavors to appeal to the Indian movie audience. In doing so, he invariably alienates those looking for sophisticated or meaningful cinema. But to be fair to Prabhu Deva and his movie, he’s not looking to please them anyway.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.