(director/writer: Dev Patel; screenwriters: Paul Angunawela, John Collee; cinematographer: Sharone Meir; editors: Joe Galdo, Tim Murrell, David Jancs; music: Jed Kurzel; cast: Dev Patel (Kid), Sharlto Copley (Tiger, fight promoter), Pitobash (Alphonso), Vipin Sharma (Alpha), Sikandar Kher (Rana), Fahad Scale (Hijra), Sobhita Dhulipala (Sita), Ashwini Kalsekar (Queenie), Adithi KalKunte (Neela, mother), Makarand Deshpande (Baba Shakti); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dev Patel, Erica Lee, Jordan Peele, Jomon Thomas, Win Rosenfeld, Ian Cooper, Basil Iwanyk, Christine Haebler, Anjay Nagpal; Universal Pictures; USA/Canada/Singapore/India-in English, 2024)

“Patel loves being an action-pic leading man.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature film directing debut of the London–based actor of Indian descent, Dev Patel, is this grim revenge action-pic that Patel stars in and co-writes with Paul Angunawela and John Collee. It’s filmed in Batam, Indonesia.

Patel made a name for himself starring in Slumdog Millionaire. Here, he plays the laconic Kid, a nobody orphan from the country who works in a seedy underground fight club in the slums of a fictional large Indian city named Yatana (similar to Mumbai).

He’s obsessed with getting revenge on Rana (Sikandar Kher), the corrupt chief of police who killed his beloved mother (Adithi KalKunte) after she resisted his sexual advances and he ordered a group of Hindu nationalists to burn down her country village. The Kid can’t wait to get his hands on a gun and go after the dastardly killer.

Meanwhile the Kid bides his time working a night job for the greedy fight promoter Tiger (Sharlto Copley), whereby he gets paid blood money for wearing a gorilla’s mask in the boxing ring and masochistically getting the crap beat out of him so the other fighters in the club can look good and build a rep. During the boxing scenes, there are flashbacks to the Kid’s tragic childhood that point to his current suffering and need for revenge.
In the slums, the Kid comes into contact with a stolen wallet being passed around and learns that Rana and the sinister bitch, Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar), a chain-smoking madam who runs a whore house, have a connection trafficking drugs and exploiting women as escorts. To get closer to his prey, the Kid takes a menial kitchen job in the hotel Queenie operates, that’s a combo restaurant and bordello for the elites. While on the job, the Kid hooks up with the small-time fixer for Queenie, Alphonso (Pitobash). He sees in Queenie’s place a corrupt, land-grabbing, power-hungry, leading right-wing politician Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), who is also a religious fanatic.

The Kid flees the hotel and by chance winds up at an underground temple of hijras (transgender women), led by the priestess Alpha (Vipin Sharma). She trains him on how to wisely use his inner strength to fight his foes. During his unique training period, whereby the Kid’s transformation is into an action hero modeled after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman (taken from the poem Ramayan, whereby the half-monkey, half-human deity of Hinduism is called the Hanuman).

During the training period the tabla is beautifully played by Grammy winner Ustad Zakir Hussain.

The film’s fight sequences are based on the Korean and Indonesian style of fighting. They come about after an hour into the film.

The unsubtle bleak film, executed in a heavy-handed manner, has the sympathetic good guys take down the bad guys with a bloody vengeance.

The action sequences overcome the film’s messiness–from poor pacing to a murky story-line to a confusing script.

Patel loves being an action-pic leading man, and excels in the role. It should be noted that he has earned a black belt in Taekwondo, which gives his fight scenes an authenticity.

The film is about standing up against injustice, even if an underdog.

It played at SXSW.

REVIEWED ON 3/23/2024  GRADE: B-