Akshay ‘Khiladi’ Kumar has finally realized that out-and-out actioners are still the type of movies that work best for him. One dream year in 2007 probably misled him into thinking that comedy/drama was his forte – and that was the point he started to lag behind the Khans of B-town. Last year’s ‘Boss’ might have tanked and ‘Khiladi 786’ (2012) might have got only a lukewarm response – but those flicks indicated that Akshay was trying to get back to the movie genre that had made him a star. With ‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’, a remake of the 2012 Tamil blockbuster ‘Thuppaki’, he makes another attempt to reincarnate his action-hero image. And this time he succeeds…almost!
‘Holiday’ is one of those movies that blow hot and cold – the good points being superb, and the bad ones totally pathetic. The film opens with ‘Virat’ (Akshay Kumar), an army officer (from the Defence Intelligence Agency, no less!) arriving home for a 40-day vacation. Well, not quite ‘home’, for he is whisked away from the train platform to meet the girl with whom his family wishes to marry him off. Arriving over there, ‘Virat’ meets ‘Saiba’ (Sonakshi Sinha) – and the two do not quite hit it off from the first. She disapproves his muddy shoes, he does not like her long hair (according to him, having long hair is equivalent to wastage of hours tending to it!). However, they are quintessential Bollywood hero-heroines after all, and a series of bickerings later – ‘Virat’ and ‘Saiba’ decide that it’s time to sing romantic duets.
With the thoroughly unnecessary love affair on its course, ‘Holiday’ now moves to more serious waters. While trying to hunt down a guy who apparently seemed to be just another pickpocket, ‘Virat’ sees a bus blast in front of his eyes. The man who planted the bomb is duly captured by ‘Virat’s best buddy and police officer ‘Mukund’ (Sumeet Raghavan). But hey, you can’t have a baddie simply lie in a prison cell, when a military secret agent is on the prowl, can you? ‘Virat’ captures the arrested terrorist while the latter tries to escape, takes him home, ties him up, and tortures him (a couple of fingers were chopped off, in case you are interested) – and ultimately finds out the future bombing plans of a notorious sleeper cell.
When information is on hand, ‘Virat’ is not a man to waste time. Another horrible song-and-dance routine with ‘Saiba’ later, he calls upon his military buddies, and systematically implements a plan to shoot down 12 terrorists – at different locations, each by a different army officer. This finally brings the main baddie ‘Farhad’ (Freddy Daruwala) on screen. Mad with rage at the slaughter of his criminal pals (one of whom was his brother), he vows to exact revenge on ‘Virat’. Post-interval, it’s a cat-and-mouse game between ‘Virat’ and ‘Farhad’. If you are wondering who wins in the end, you are not at all a good guesser!
‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’ is so mundane in its first half an hour or so, that viewers can be forgiven for walking out of theaters during that period. For a crackshot secret agent, ‘Virat’s toothy smile looks odd – and the way he is forced to meet his would-be wife in his army-dress (for his dad believes that the ‘shubhsamay’ (holy time) is passing away) is a sorry excuse at making humor. Oh, and during these opening reels, Govinda (in a cameo as ‘Virat’s senior officer) gets mud splattered on his face, ‘Nisha’ slaps her dad, pinches his wallet, and participates in about 20+ games in a single inter-collegiate sports meet. Her first look in an Western outfit would send shivers down the spines of the bravest of viewers – those thunder thighs have that power!
The second half, barring a couple of forced songs, does make up a lot of lost ground though. Although there are not many ‘didn’t-see-that-coming’ twists in the ‘Virat vs Farhad’ tussle, some of Akshay’s stunts would immediately remind you of his daredevil ‘Khiladi’ years. It’s unfortunate that the chase begins in right earnest only when around 40 minutes are left in the movie (the run time is a tad over 2 and a half hours). The climax was built up nicely, but ended with a whimper (much like the villain!).
‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’ is a film that Akshay Kumar carries almost solely on his shoulders. His comic timing remains decent (although they were not really required in the movie), but it’s his (without body double) action sequences that are absolutely stunning. The man can throw punches and flying kicks almost at will – and is easily still one of the fittest actors in India. Towards the end, when a bloodied Akki says to the villain ‘Haath khol ke maar’ – you almost forgive him for allowing the first half of the film being so lousy. The scenes where he is chalking up plans to reach ‘Farhad’ are cerebral – something like the con scenes in Akshay’s ‘Special 26’. There are leaps of faith required, but nothing is too outlandish in this good-vs-evil fight.
Sonakshi Sinha, as ‘Saiba’, also proves a point with ‘Holiday’. That she is not yet ready to be anything but eye-candy (lots of it, to be fair!) in movies. All of her big hits have been films where she had shaken a leg and mouthed a few lines, while Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar (here, as well as in ‘Rowdy Rathore’ (2012)) did the things required for box-office glory. In ‘Holiday’, she smiles, makes faces, cries a bit, fights with the man of her dreams – but when the serious moments arrive, the director does not bother (rightly!) demanding her presence. Sonakshi drew a blank with the author-backed ‘Lootera’, and till she manages to carry off a meaningful role, she is not going to be an ‘actress’ – at least not in my book.
A straight out military-against-terrorist film like ‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’ required an impressively menacing antagonist – and Freddy Daruwala, as ‘Farhad’, initially lives up to expectations. The signature background music whenever he comes on screen, sending messages from his sleeper cell buddies from his secret house at Thar adds to the aura of fear about him. Sadly, everything dissipates as soon as ‘Farhad’ opens his mouth. His dialogue delivery is as wooden as they come, and the man really has to work a lot on his voice pitch as well. While exchanging heated words with a Bolly hero during a movie climax, a villain simply can’t sound squeaky, as ‘Farhad’ does here.
The rest of the cast do a fair job in ‘Holiday’. It’s refreshing to see a much leaner Govinda back on screen. Whenever he comes on screen, beats of ‘Kisi Disco Mein Jaaye’ plays in the background – a really nice touch. Govinda needs to remove those black patches under his eyes though. Sumeet Raghavan, as ‘Virat’s slightly goofy police sidekick, is excellent. Zakir Hussain, as the corrupt defence under-secretary, is well-cast in a small role. Premnath Gulati and Rajesh Khatri (as ‘Virat’s and ‘Saiba’s fathers respectively) are okay, but barely there. All the others do their bits decently enough. There’s a little delight for all the dog-lovers too!
‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’ is A.R. Murugadoss’ second directorial venture in Bollywood (after the remarkably insipid yet money-earning ‘Ghajini’ in 2008). All things considered, ‘Holiday’ is a much better movie than the Aamir Khan-starrer, but Murugadoss (master filmmaker he might be down south) still requires some time to understand the pulse of the pan-Indian audience. The way in which he lets the pre-interval phase meander is shocking. Still, it’s progress for Mr. Murugadoss.
The usually reliable Pritam creates some of his worst tunes in recent times for ‘Holiday’. Each of the songs are bad – and what’s more, they are not choreographed well either. Akshay, on the wrong-side of the 40s, trying to prance around Sonakshi while wearing a three-quarters bermuda (crooning ‘Tu Hi To Hai’) is just plain sad. The vigorously promoted ‘Blame The Night’ track is not a patch on ‘Party All Night’ (Boss). Lyrics, by Irshad Kamil, is ho-hum.
The funny dialogs in ‘Holiday-A Soldier is Never On Duty’ do not work at all, but a few of the punchlines when ‘Virat’ and ‘Farhad’ are literally slogging it out are good. Apart from writing the actors’ lines, Murugadoss looks over the screenplay of the film as well – and his job in this regard is patchy. Songs pop up at inappropriate moments, just when the narrative is getting intense. What could have been a uniformly taut thriller, is ruined by this – as well as, of course, the first part of the movie. Cinematographer N. Natarajan Subramaniam does okay in his limited scope. The editing should have been much better.
A special mention for action directors Greg Powell and Anal Arasu here. Powell had choreographed the action sequences in Daniel Craig’s ‘Skyfall’, and he brings a dash of rugged sophistication in the fight scenes of Holiday. Also, as Akshay had mentioned before the release of the movie, Powell finally shows how a gun should be held, for firing properly.
‘Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’ has done fairly good business during its first week in India. The bulk of the credits for that would go to Akki, who overcomes a plain bad first half, and manages to win viewers over with his jaw-dropping stunts. Keep doing more of actioners, Akshay – you still rock in them.
What’s worrying is – his next movie, ‘It’s Entertainment’ is a comedy again, and the trailers are looking familiarly bad!