“Aajkal izzat maangne se nahi milti, chheenni padti hai” (You don’t get respect by asking for it these days, you have to snatch it), says Akash Rana (Ajay Devgn) a few minutes into Priyadarshan’s new film. Before you can snap your fingers, Akash and his accomplices Adil (Zayed Khan) and Megha (Sameera Reddy) have planted a bomb on a train from London to Glasgow, and are demanding 10 million pounds to defuse it. Cut to the British railway control room, and cue series of mobile phone calls between sombre bomber Akash, train brain Sanjay Raina and top cop Arjun Khanna.
Tezz could have easily been an action-filled riff on A Wednesday: a lone man using a bomb threat to get media coverage and force the government to pay attention. And the film does spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince us that Akash is the tragic victim of evil immigration laws. But how getting a lot of money out of the British government in exchange for 500 innocent lives is going to get him ‘respect’ is never explained.
In fact there’s much that is inexplicable about Tezz. In a Bollywood world where Indians abroad have never been shown as anything but well-off, well-settled NRIs with their dil in Hindustan, it’s interesting to finally have a Hindi film that allows for the fact that not all desi immigrants are legal, and that they want nothing more than to never have to return to India. Unfortunately, having hit upon a potentially interesting subject, Tezz is content to leave the treatment paper-thin.
Ditto for its characters. Who is Akash Rana? Where did he grow up? Why exactly does he think he can get away with not having legal status in the UK? Why, instead of being deported all by himself, doesn’t he simply take his simpering British wife (Kangna Ranaut, with scarcely anything to do) and child and go off to India – especially if he’s an engineer? The film has no answers. Zayed Khan and Sameera Reddy’s characters get even more slender backgrounds: just a couple of over-dramatic flashbacks which are supposed to explain why they’re risking their lives to aid Devgn’s train bomb ploy. Well, they don’t.
The guys they’re up against – the British establishment, represented of course by the desi cop Arjun Khanna (Anil Kapoor), desi railway controller Sanjay Raina (Boman Irani) and yet another desi cop (Mohanlal) – don’t have it much better in terms of characterisation. Anil Kapoor, playing a feted UK police officer, doesn’t look like he’s on the verge of retirement. But since we’re told he is, it seems a trifle unbelievable that he should have to fight “you guys are all terrorists” slurs from a random white colleague at this stage of a grand career. And make no mistake, it is grand – he’s the only cop I’ve ever heard of who gets to address an all-white British Parliament. Mohanlal is completely wasted, spending the whole film stuck on the bomb-threatened train where all he gets to do is deal with intermittent outbreaks of passenger panic. Oh, that and speak in a South Indian accent to a little girl speaking in a North Indian accent, who turns out to be the daughter of Establishment Desi No. 3: Boman Irani. Irani, being the talented actor he is, manages to imbue his (equally slender) character with a semblance of teary reality. But on the whole, this is a film where characters don’t really matter.
What matters are the chase scenes, the aerial shots of the train whizzing through the British countryside, the nailbiting stunts. And by Hindi movie standards, these are really rather good. I sat rooted to my seat watching Sameera Reddy rafting dangerously over rapids with a yellow waterproof suitcase and a bike over the heads of nonplussed British cops, all the while being followed by a combination of helicopters and police cars. Zayed Khan had my favourite chase scene, doing a lot of impressive somersaulting across a series of London subways and bridges. And Devgn gets to do a micro-mini-version of a Third Man-style splash through the sewers. All rather fun, and none of them look even faintly ridiculous while they’re doing it.
There’s a great scene in Tezz where Anil Kapoor and his team think they’ve got Ajay Devgn surrounded, until they break into the farm and find a solitary cellphone sitting on a chair in an empty room, routing Devgn’s voice through it. “Maan gaye isko yaar, bahut English picture dekhta hai saala,” laughs Anil.
Same goes for Priyadarshan, clearly. I just wish this Hindi picture had a little more kahani in it.