India’s Most Wanted is the real-life story of a manhunt for a mysterious terrorist by a Bihar Police outfit, led by a member known to go against the orders — Prabhat Kapoor (Arjun Kapoor) — in Nepal. They have no weapons, or backup from the Indian government, and have voluntarily chosen to bring down the ‘Ghost’ (Sudev Nair).
It is almost like a tribute to the real-life Yasin Bhaktal, the terrorist around which the story is based. However, his friends and family will doubt his legacy after watching this 125-minute film with little of the ‘Ghost’ himself. Maybe, the greatest joke the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he existed.
There lies a constant lack of connection between the cause and effect and it shows (maybe it is all that effectively shows). The movie starts off with a bombing scene in Pune, which is relatively well-constructed as one may eventually discover. As the movie continues chronologically, on one side is Prabhat with his team on their manhunt in Nepal, and on the other, we watch montages from a series of blasts happening across India.
Cries are heard, bloodshed is witnessed and real-life images make the cause, err, existent. Our ‘chief’ antagonist — Ghost — provides some poetic narration as he crosses the area of the crime. It is right then and there that we lose the connection with the story.
Those bombings don’t reflect on his expressions and to imagine that he indeed is the primary source for it needs a lot of brain cells. To further the problem, Prabhat and his team seem even further disconnected from the cause — five characters whose only emotional depth is derived from misaligned understandings of patriotism, risk and the word ‘paagal’ — one which is fittingly repeatedly used in the movie.
Cliches are cinematically acceptable in this poor man’s Baby (2015), what is not is a duality of tone. Comic relief works in high-tension suspense thrillers because it is comic relief, not comic break. Most ‘jokes’ are ill-placed, while the rest just don’t match the background music. All of them are not funny.
While the first half is a compilation of random statements from ambiguous characters defining major plot points, the second is far more connected and reasoned. Reasoned here means it is closer to Baby-cum-Argo climax than what seemed at the start. Character depth went for a re-write and never came back. All the group members justify everything through ‘desh’ which is fine until they ironically over-do it.
Similar problems arose and were as easily sidelined with Aiyaary (2018) where Manoj Bajpayee, among other factors, almost saved it. Somewhere, one might wonder that Raj Kumar Gupta got the wrong AK as his lead, where one out of the Neeraj Pandey cinematic universe of modified Argo thriller series could have helped to save the film.
Based on a terrifying real-life story, India’s Most Wanted deserved an Indian Zero Dark Thirty but had to settle for a culmination of problem statements, little backstory, over-the-top dialogues, more than restrained delivery, Arjun Kapoor and desh. Just like the characters in the film, the men and women behind the making too might have to settle for their own ‘patriot acts’ than for the quest of reward and/or respect.