Shootout at Wadala Can’t Shake Its Vile Lead


Shootout at Wadala is a true-crime gangster epic about an ostensibly charismatic outlaw who’s really just a preening monster—something the filmmakers seem to miss. The movie opens with the stern announcement that the decade-spanning narrative (1970-1982) concerns the first major “encounter” (ie: gunfight) between Bombay police officers and the city’s gangs. But more specifically, the film starts and ends as the story of Manohar Surve (Race 2 villain John Abraham), a well-mannered college student who becomes Bombay’s most dangerous thug after he’s beaten and arrested by crooked cops. Because Manohar only survives in prison thanks to a cabal of selfless, muscle-bound prisoners, he learns to value fraternity more than anything else, as in a blase musical number where he drinks, sings, and drives around Bombay with his gang of killer bros. Director Sanjay Gupta (Zinda, the universally despised 2006 Bollywood remake of Oldboy) and his two co-writers want us to treat Manohar like a fallen hero, but they constantly excuse his scuzziest behavior. After chastising a rival gang member for letting a girlfriend become a prostitute, Manohar forces his way into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment and rapes her. Gupta condones the crime: The victim’s cries of protest soon turn into appreciative moans, and the scene pseudo-ambiguously ends just as quickly, reinforcing the misogynistic notion that, on some level, Manohar’s ex was asking for it. Slow-motion-intensive fight scenes strain to valorize Manohar’s ferocity, highlighting all the veins that stick out on Abraham’s phonebook-thick neck whenever he needs to look menacing. But no amount of hyper-stylized, Guy Ritchie–inspired posturing can save a film whose lead antihero is so unrepentantly vile.