Asiaphiles, and genre addicts in general, will get a kick out of “Zinda,” a pedal-to-the-metal Bollywood crimer closely, uh, “inspired” by South Korean helmer Park Chan-wook’s cult classic “Old Boy” (2003). Story of a guy hunting down the people who kept him locked in a cell for 14 years follows the broad trajectory — and many of the details — of the Korean pic. However, it ditches most of its psychological niceties and dry humor, changes the big third-act revelation and often inventively riffs on setpieces. Very dark and violent by Bollywood standards, film performed moderately in its mid-January release.
Official remake rights to “Old Boy” were sold to Universal in 2004; the Vertigo Entertainment project has helmer Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”) attached. While most of the dozen South Korean remakes still languish in development Stateside, Bollywood writer-helmer Sanjay Gupta, whose 2002 “Kaante” melded elements of “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Usual Suspects,” has stolen an unauthorized march.
Story is set in Bangkok, where software engineer Balajit Roy (Sanjay Dutt) has moved with his wife, Nisha (Celina Jaitley), to take a job arranged back in India. Soon after he’s celebrated his wedding anni by bullying his way into a restaurant with local friend Joy Fernandes (Mahesh Manjrekar), burly Bala suddenly disappears from the pier of his seaside home. Unknown to him, Nisha has just discovered she’s pregnant.
Bala wakes up in a cell-like room where he’s detained for 14 years on an exclusive diet of fried dumplings. Blue-tinted seg, with the passage of time shown by TV programs, is rapidly sketched, with Bala channeling his frustration by learning martial arts. Also from the TV, he learns he’s been framed for his wife’s brutal murder.
Waking up in a box atop a skyscraper, with just some money to get by on, Bala is told via an unknown voice on a cell phone to ask himself “why?” not “who?” Falling in with a sassy Hindi-speaking cabbie, Jenny Singh (Bollywood looker Lara Dutta), Bala heads for Chinatown to try every fried dumpling he can lay his hands on and get a clue as to his cell’s whereabouts.
Pic starts adding its own Bollywood-style riffs — and pure inventions — to the basic story, including a three-minute single take of Bala demolishing his nemesis’ hoods with a hammer. Unlike the balletic tracking sequence in “Old Boy,” this is a knock-down, drag-out affair, in keeping with Dutt’s perf as a tired, lumbering avenger, very different from Korean actor Choi Min-shik’s bemused antihero.
Later scenes, including a torture scene with Jenny, diverge considerably from “Old Boy,” as well as the final surprise arranged by Bala’s nemesis, Rohit (John Abraham).
Dutt, a familiar Bollywood baddie, is excellent here as the bearded, brutalized Bala, and Abraham, generally in decorative pin-up roles, is surprisingly effective as Rohit, especially in the final standoff. As the spunky cabbie, Dutta makes the most of her chances.
Desaturated colors give a relentlessly bleak look to the movie — lensed in Bangkok, Pattaya and India’s Pune studios. Lack of downtime, enhanced by Sanjoy Chowdry’s driving score, makes the running time seem even shorter than it is (by Bollywood standards). Song track, used only in montages, has an Indo-Pak pop flavor. “Zinda” literally means “Alive.”