Bullett Raja: Film Review

Fox International Pictures
This Bollywood action film shoots blanks.

A scripture-spouting Brahmin hit man goes on the rampage in Uttar Pradesh.

Some Indian filmmakers leave nothing to chance when it comes to the success of a film — often performing elaborate rituals marking the first day of a shoot and increasingly relying on numerology, a practice that has inspired many creative spellings of names and film titles.

Bullett Raja stars Saif Ali Khan (Race 2) as Raja, a scripture-spouting Brahmin hit man sworn to avenge the murder of his best friend (Jimmy Sheirgill); and Sonakshi Sinha as Mitali, an aspiring actress from Bengal who wins Raja’s heart.

But even though the spelling of Bullett Raja may be auspicious, director and co-writer Tigmanshu Dhulia should have spent more time on character development than superstition: the film is flat and unengaging, and works neither as an action vehicle for star Saif Ali Khan nor as a love story. Despite releasing on Thanksgiving in the U.S., a day earlier than its release in India in an attempt to woo diaspora audiences, this actioner lacks the broad appeal necessary to draw in entire families to the multiplex.

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The lead performances are a let-down: Khan smirks his way through the film, and Sinha, costumed in cheap red and purple polyester, spends most of her time reacting to the action with a blank look on her face.

The bright moments in Bullett Raja instead come from its supporting cast, especially Gulshan Grover as an evil financier, Ravi Kissen as a nutty henchman who dresses up as a woman to escape the cops, hunky martial artist Vidyut Jamwal, and Jimmy Shergill as Raja’s partner in crime.

The film’s milieu, the dirty world of central Indian politics and its complex intersection with crime, is familiar turf by now in works such as Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti and Aarakshan and Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar Raj, all films inspired by the corruption inherent in the seat of power.

One of Dhulia’s previous films, the National Award-winning Paan Singh Tomar, starred Irrfan Khan as an athlete whose sour experiences with the powerful drove him to a life of banditry.

Dhulia, considered a thinking man’s director, seems to want to avoid the flat-out masala entertainment aspect of less brainy action films such as Dabangg. But even though the action is well-choreographed and Khan is certainly fit and well-suited to the stunt work, Dhulia seems uncomfortable in the genre and can’t seem to drum up any excitement over the film’s two-and-a-half hours.

It doesn’t help that the cinematography is stylized when it should be realistic, and realistic when it should be stylized — as in a dance number (“Don’t Touch My Body”) which takes place under a wedding tent, shot in such unforgivingly bright light that you can see the puckers in the Astroturf.

Opened: Nov. 28, 2013 (FOX International Pictures)

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidyut Jamwal, Jimmy Shergill, Gulshan Grover, and Raj Babbar

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Screenwriters: Tigmanshu Dhulia, Amaresh Misra

Producers: Rahul Mittra, Nitin Tej Ahuja, and Tigmanshu Dhulia

Director of photography: P.S. Vinod

Stunts: Vidyut Jamwal

Choreographer: Ganesh Acharya

Art director: Dhananjoy Mondal

Costume designer: Priyanka Mundada

Editor: Rahul Shrivastava

Music: Sajid Ali, Wajid Ali

Not rated, 138 minutes