When I walked out of Puri Jagannadh’s Liger, starring Vijay Deverakonda and Ananya Panday, I was furious – more at the audience, less at the filmmakers. Last week, I sat in an almost empty theatre while watching Anurag Kashyap’s intricately made Dobaaraa. The week before that, I enjoyed Advait Chandan’s Laal Singh Chaddha in an as empty hall. While both the films tanked at the box office, it was difficult to get seats of my choice for a late night show of Liger in small town India. This is why I’m mad at the audience. We don’t demand better films. We promote a culture that films like Liger ask us to promote and that’s only embarrassing. We make such films the biggest hits of the year and then complain about the absence of good films.
Hindi Cinema has seen a time – an era – where films worked, not on merit, but because of star power. Given the pandemic, and the benchmark OTT has set in the recent times, cash registers at box offices are now not ringing enough. Aamir Khan’s lovely little film, Laal Singh Chaddha, however beautiful, didn’t work because people wanted to watch him do something more than what he did in PK. I loved the film, but most people didn’t. I then thought maybe we are demanding better. After Taapsee Pannu’s Rashmi Rocket and Shabash Mithu, I thought people wouldn’t happily watch her Dobaaraa, and that’s what happened. That’s a sign of accepting the possibility of a bad film, based on experience. I wouldn’t deny the idea. And then comes Liger – Vijay Deverakonda biggest opener till date.
I’m all up for big budget daftness. I genuinely enjoy it – Befikre, Simmba. But there’s a daft film and then there’s an embarrassing film. Liger falls in the latter category, even worse if possible. For starters, the premise of the film builds on the fact that Vijay Deverakonda plays a ‘man’ who is above all ‘women’. I genuinely didn’t want to watch the film when minutes into the film Panday’s Taniya is groped and then she falls in love with Deverakonda’s Liger, the man who had groped her. And why? “Yeh toh superhit hai boss,” she expresses, when she sees him fight. Immediately after, there’s the song ‘Aafat’ which implies that consent is a joke. Cinema blindfolded since the 90s isn’t the kind of cinema I would ever want to promote. It’s a bad thing that we’ve borrowed fish net tank tops from that era, but the mistreatment of women too? The film is so regressive that in the opening credits, Ananya Panday’s name comes after a man who has a one scene cameo. I’d say, “She’s supposed to be the leading lady, treat her like one,” but then Taniya seems to have been written by a patriarchal man who doesn’t care about or remember the women in his own life unless he needs dinner to be served.
From the onset, it’s clear that the film not only hates women, but also the disabled. Liger stammers, and that’s not seen as a mere weakness (which it is not) but is emphasised upon as a flaw. The otherwise wonderful Ramya Krishnan asserts again and again how he needs to use that flaw to fight. It’s supposed to be philosophical, but at the hands of a budgeted Sivagami, this backfires. She plays a hyper mother, who is a tiger. Why? I have no idea.
It doesn’t help that Vijay Deverakonda can’t act. I fail to understand what it is that has made him a superstar. Till now, I didn’t know of him, now I want to forget him. He has a charisma but it’s an annoying sort of charm. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it is what it is. Speaking of talentless actors, Ananya Panday plays a social media influencer, but her character doesn’t seem to know how social media really works. But it works for Panday, because she too is in a similar situation in her career.
In an interview, Deverakonda had said he wants to make “review proof cinema” and build a relationship with his audience that doesn’t depend critics and their opinions, what he described as “outside noise”. Mr Deverakonda, let me clarify – my review, or that of others, isn’t for you. It’s for the audience. So, I’ll loop back to the first paragraph of this review – demand better cinema.
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