The deafening Bollywood action comedy “Boss,” directed in broad, heavy strokes by Anthony D’Souza (“Blue”), is a relentless hard-sell star vehicle, a two-and-half-hour string of sledgehammer fighting and dancing sequences. In the end, it is little more than an extended high-energy commercial for the mugging wonderfulness of its leading man, veteran scenery-chewing megastar Akshay Kumar.
Nominally a remake of the 2010 Malayalam film “Pokkiri Raja,” with action scenes modeled on the post-“Matrix” slow-motion violence of head-banging South Indian hero films (a trend that began with Aamir Khan’s “Ghajini” in 2008), “Boss” also harks back pointedly to the grab-bag “masala” formulas that dominated Bollywood cinema in the 1970s and ’80s. In spite of its relentless, repetitive overstatement, the pic (which opened Oct. 16 to robust business on more than 3,000 Indian screens, as well as 100 North American locations) will likely be embraced as filling comfort food by nostalgic Indian moviegoers as well as non-Indian fans of the far-fetched films of the Amitabh Bachchan era.
In fact, the touchstone of the plot appears to be the late Yash Chopra’s 1975 classic “Deewaar” (“Wall”), in which Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor were estranged brothers, one a charismatic noble smuggler and the other an upright hero cop. In “Boss,” we have the two sons of stern-but-just school teacher Satyakant (Mithun Chakraborty). The old brother, Surya, unjustly disowned, comes to the rescue of the godfatherly Big Boss (Danny Denzongpa), a warm-hearted gangster who runs a trucking company. When the Big Boss is ambushed at a crowded intersection, Surya intervenes, displaying superheroic fighting abilities. Adopted into the gang, the adult Surya becomes Boss (Kumar), a legendary Robin Hood-style “fixer” who is his surrogate father’s second-in-command.
In a move that is all too typical of the movie’s ADHD sensibility, the scene that reintroduces Surya as Boss sets up a clever action-comedy device that is instantly dropped and never mentioned again: namely, that the gangster hero can only fight at said superheroic levels when very loud Punjabi dance music is playing, timing his roundhouse punches and high kicks to the beat. The movie’s many subsequent action episodes, alas, are much less inventive.
The plot, pursued with many boisterous digressions, aims to reunite the shattered family, beginning with Satyakant’s reluctant plea to the Big Boss to help defend his younger son, Surya’s beloved kid brother Shiv (Shiv Pandit). Shiv has fallen for Ankita (Aditi Rao Hydari), the doe-eyed and curvy sister of a malevolent police official, Ayushman Thakur (Ronit Roy). In defending her honor, Shiv inadvertently trounced the son of a powerful politician (Govind Mandeo).
With his thick-muscled body and huge, dark dead eyes, Roy’s Ayushman is a truly terrifying black-hearted bully, and director D’Souza deploys him effectively, often in looming closeup. Less successfully, he attempts to pump up Ayushman’s conflict with the Boss to mythic levels, even staging their final showdown at Kurukshetra, the climactic battleground of the Hindu epic “Mahabharata.” The gravity of the myth-making is undercut, however, by the persistent drive to create an ingratiating slapstick showcase for Kumar.
Kumar can be a winning performer when he is permitted to display some self-doubt or vulnerability, as in the 2006 romantic comedy “Jaan-E-Mann.” Placed in service of a blowhard action hero, however, his persona is pushy and graceless. Always playing directly to the audience, he never walks when he can strut and never speaks when he can shout. The full-bore energy level at which every gesture is enacted by this enviably fit 46-year-old martial arts practitioner can be impressive. With the exception of a couple of high falls that occur during an extended parkour-style chase over the tricky rooftops of Delhi, Kumar visibly does all his own stunts and kung fu fighting in “Boss.”
The sense that the “Boss” filmmakers are casting a nostalgic look backward to the heyday of the “masala” movie is supported by the casting of Chakraborty, once a disco dancing heartthrob; Denzongpa, a hard working character actor who specialized in bad guys; and especially comedian Johnny Lever, not seen often over the past decade but a ubiquitous presence in Hindi films throughout the 1980s and ’90s. His appearance here is a reunion of sorts: Lever had a key supporting role in Kumar’s breakthrough action comedy “Khiladi” (“Player”) in 1992.