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Khakee

The testosterone's so high you can almost put a match to it in "Khakee," a twist-filled, often very violent drama centered on some cops escorting a terrorist cross-country to Mumbai. Powerhouse casting, and equally powerhouse direction by Rajkumar Santoshi, makes this an above-average example of mainstream Bollywood thrillers.

With:
With: Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, Aishwarya Rai, Tusshar Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Jaya Prada, Lara Dutta, Susheel Jangira, Tanuja. (Hindi dialogue)

The testosterone’s so high you can almost put a match to it in “Khakee,” a twist-filled, often very violent drama centered on some cops escorting a terrorist cross-country to Mumbai. Powerhouse casting, and equally powerhouse direction by Rajkumar Santoshi (“The Legend of Bhagat Singh”), makes this an above-average example of mainstream Bollywood thrillers, sans any stylistic flourishes. Given its paucity of musical numbers and romance, this one could have a career on ancillary among general action buffs.

Film starts with a bang as Pakistani Muslim terrorists open fire on an Indian police convoy attempting to move suspect Iqbal Ansari (Atul Kulkarni) from a jail in the small town of Chandangarh to stand trial in Mumbai. After managing to prevent Ansari from escaping, the authorities call in veteran cop Anant Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan), who agrees to take over the mission (a) to prove himself to his superiors, and (b) as long as he can be back home in time to attend his daughter’s wedding.

Anant is joined by libidinous macho cop Shekhar Varma (Akshay Kumar) and the younger, more sensitive Ashwin Gupte (Tusshar Kapoor). Hitching a ride to Mumbai at the last moment is a pretty teacher, Mahalaxmi (Aishwarya Rai), who earlier tipped the police off to where the terrorist’s leader, Angre (Ajay Devgan), was hiding. Even before the small group takes to the road, at the 50-minute mark, Kumar realizes the terrorists have a mole in the police force.

After several close brushes with Angre on the road — including a well-staged chase through a cattle market — the group takes shelter in a ruined old house in a forest, where Angre and his men besiege them. A surprise revelation about their suspect, Ansari, leads to the intermission.

Part Two follows the decreasing group of cops from one close shave to another, with an escape on a freight train at a deserted station lensed almost like a Western. But when they finally reach Mumbai, there’s still plenty of plot left — including unsettled business between Kumar and Angre, and a final twist that even experienced Bollywood-watchers will never guess.

Though never more than well-made commercial pulp, pic is more than just a chase movie, with the second half full of talk about upholding justice and the rule of law in face of rampant corruption. Film’s three musical numbers (all in Part Two) slow up the drama, especially an overbaked disco one by sexpot singer Lara Dutta.

As Bachchan’s character grows into a dignified lead, so Kumar’s grinning hunk mellows into a more likable type as he and Rai’s schoolteacher seem to fall for each other. De-glammed for once, Rai is especially good in a pivotal role. Everyone, however, pales into insignificance whenever Devgan (“Company”) is on screen: Bollywood’s most charismatic villain gets a peach of a part as the vengeful terrorist, Angre.

Action sequences are well staged and cut, and the fights are especially brutal, though in a cartoony way.

Khakee

India

Production: An Eros Entertainment release (in the U.K.) of a DMS Films production. Produced by Keshu. Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. Screenplay, Santoshi, Sridhar Raghavan. Script associate, Ashok Rawat.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), K.V. Anand; editor, Merzin Teneer; music, Ram Sampat; lyrics, Sameer; art director, Nichit Chandrakant Deshai; costume designer, Anna Singh; sound (Dolby Digital), Anup Dev; choreographer, Ganesh Acharya; associate editor, Sanbit Mohanty; action director, Tinu Verma. Reviewed at Mr. Young's preview theater, London, Jan. 20, 2004. Running time: 180 MIN. (I: 95 MIN.; II: 85 MIN.).

With: With: Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, Aishwarya Rai, Tusshar Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Jaya Prada, Lara Dutta, Susheel Jangira, Tanuja. (Hindi dialogue)

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