Khuda Haafiz review: What good is an action-less Vidyut Jammwal in a film?

In a two hour film, Bollywood’s ace action hero barely has some 15 odd minute of action, but it’s the poor acting that breaks the deal for a promising tale

Rating: 2 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Without retribution there’d be no action dramas. Once the bread and butter of Hindi cinema, most action tales revolved around an avenging hero. Often, he avenged a family member, partner/spouse.  It’s hard to find many takers for such tropes in the new millennia, unless the avenging hero is Vidyut Jammwal.  India’s Rambo though is on a hunt for his missing wife in director Faruk Kabir’s Khuda Haafiz [2020].

In the 80s and 90s, one often read dreaded tales of human trafficking in the Middle East with girls from India and neighbouring poor states tricked into a dark abyss. Based on true events, as the maker’s claim, Khuda Haafiz [2020] sees Sameer Chaudhary [Jammwal] travel to one Gulf state Noman (a pseudonym for Oman?) in search of his wife. Kabir’s film though is set in 2008, when an inflationary economy left many jobless. The financial constraints forces Nargis Chaudhary [Shivaleeka Oberoi] to grab a job opportunity in Noman.  Sameer gets a distress call from his wife and soon he begins the spouse search in the Arab kingdom that’s largely ruled by a military regime.

Over the years, Indian cinema has seen rescue op tales in the Middle East. Mahesh Narayan’s Malayalam film Take off [2017] was inspired by the repatriation of Kerala nurses from ISIS-controlled Iraq. Ali Abbas Zafar’s Tiger Zinda Hain [2017], too, was inspired by the same story but the Bollywood film took a populist route giving us a massy slam-bang action film. Often the hero here is akin to a one man army. In his bid to rescue his brother, Tiger Shroff single-handedly thumped ISIS in Syria in Ahmed Khan’s Baaghi 3 [2020].

Hindi cinema is prone to take the populist ‘one man army’ route in such tales. The success of a few films has perhaps set a template for rescue op tales in Bollywood.

Credit to Kabir, he’s chucked the populist trope, and adopts a more pragmatic approach to deal with the crisis at hand.  It’s an agonizing search for Sameer [Jammwal], one that breaks his spirit. 

Unfortunately for Kabir, Jammwal’s frailties as an ‘actor’ haunt him throughout the film. Jammwal is anything but convincing in emoting the despair of Sameer.

As an actor, Jammwal’s shortcoming are well known, but often it’s his dare-devilry that makes him popular.  And he’s not alone here. From Chuck Norris to Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan to Vin Diesel, the best action heroes aren’t usually the best actors around. No disrespect meant to our desi legends – Rajinikanth, Mithun Chakraborty, but their action has now largely become stuff of memes. A Vidyut Jammwal, Tiger Shroff are a breath of fresh air for they’ve elevated action choreography in Bollywood.  However, you can’t hope to live a career on breathtaking action alone.

 Kabir takes Jammwal out of his comfort zone, curbs his natural predatory instincts. Khuda Haafiz was the chance for Jammwal to unveil the intense actor in him but he leaves you disappointed. If you are a diehard Jammwal fan, would you be fine with an action hero barely indulging into 15 minutes of action through the two hour ten minute film?  And even that is far from Jammwal’s best.  The few action scenes are very clumsy. Imagine walking into a dangerous alley, being chased by big bad men, but only couple of them are holding guns.

Director Kabir clearly didn’t want the ‘one man army’ approach, but based on this show, you do question whether Jammwal was the right man to play Sameer Chaudhary?

Young Shivaleeka Oberoi has a delightful screen presence but she is yet to show her mettle as an actor.  The script also leaves her with little screen time. The Sameer-Nargis relationship is intriguing. Here’s a Lucknow couple – a Muslim girl having an arranged marriage with a Hindu boy. Strange indeed but it sure is a good for national integration, communal harmony.

Jammwal’s unending wooden show tests your nerves, but Kabir still has grip on his screenplay. However, once Shiv Pandit and Aahana Kumra come into the picture, Jammwal finds his company. The trio give a masterclass in wooden acting.  Cops Faiz Abu Malik [Pandit] and Fatema Hamid [Kumra] are just another addition to the cliched desi Arabs in Bollywood. Kumra still looks a local with the hijab on, but Pandit looks anything but Arabic.

 When will Bollywood filmmakers learn that Indians and Arabs are vastly different people? In the past, cash-strapped filmmakers had to make do with desi stars faking as Arabs. But if you’ve shot largely in Uzbekistan, what was the harm in roping in some Omani, sorry Nomani talent? Honestly, we are tired of Indians speaking in the fake Arab-accented Hindi/Urdu.

There are two desi men though who do a decent job at playing non-Indian characters. The veteran Annu Kapoor shows the way for his younger colleagues impressing as the good Samaritan (Pakistani) Pathan cabbie Usman Ali Murad. Indo-Pak bonding in foreign lands has become a cliched sub plot in thrillers, but it’s welcome on Pakistan’s Independence Day [14 August].

Unheralded Nawab Shah looks the part as Itzak Regini, the mean and bald baddie here.  It’s only the efforts of the two men that brings some respectability to the film.

Creatively, Khuda Haafiz is a big let-down, but it scores high on a few technical fronts.  Jitan Harmeet Singh does well to capture the beauty of the Central Asia state.   Singh’s neat cinematography gives Khuda Haafiz a rich visual appeal. Amar Mohile gives an apt background score, especially in the tense moments.

There’s a sense of disappointment for Kabir had a fairly engaging narrative, but it’s the poor show by the lead cast that breaks the deal.  Just say hello and a quick Khuda Haafiz [good bye] to this film.

Khuda Hafeez is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

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