At one point in Akira, the cheerfully corrupt cop ACP Govind Rane tells his junior – poore game ki lanka laga di. I thought it was a wonderfully expressive way to say you messed up. And I’d like to borrow it right now. The first half of Akira is gripping and taut. I was really enjoying the story of this feisty small-town girl who gets embroiled with dirty money and murder. And then, just like that – director A. R. Murugadoss ne poore game ki lanka laga di.
The curse of the second half strikes so badly in this film that it almost completely negates the first half, which is effective. We are introduced to Akira, which means graceful strength in Sanskrit. Her father nurtures in her a strong will to fight injustice. He trains her in martial arts. Despite an early setback, she is unafraid and tough as nails. When she is bullied in college, she worries for her tormenters because they are provoking her to beat them up. Akira's narrative runs parallel to Rane’s story – he kills a man for a stash of cash and now must cover his tracks. In attempting to hide their crime, the cops pick up the wrong girl – Akira.
Sonakshi is wholly convincing as the steely Akira but what makes the first half click is Anurag Kashyap. Rane is the sort of fleshy, decadent cop who would fit in at a Roman orgy. He kills casually and has a jovial cynicism about the world. When destiny presents him with a suitcase of notes, he doesn't hesitate to take it. Anurag gives Rane just the right touch of menace and sleaze. I think the director should seriously consider an acting career. As the Joker so memorably put it – This town needs a better class of criminal.
Murugadoss skillfully primes us for the battle between Akira and Rane. But post-interval, the film shifts tracks to a mental asylum, Rane disappears for too long and logic and plausibility exit the room. Now the director wants to present Akira as a full-blown Hindi film hero. So even under a drug haze, she can beat up half a dozen men. She struts in slow motion and the soundtrack amps up her punches. I love watching women do action but there is little impact here because by now, you’ve emotionally checked out of the film. The first half of the film is also bolstered by Konkona Sen Sharma, who plays a heavily pregnant, upright cop. Inspector Rabia instantly understands that all is not what it seems. In the second half, Rabia’s character is – no pun intended – an absolute cop-out.
Akira has been made earlier in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Obviously it’s a narrative that connects but those films had male protagonists. Here Murugadoss makes the central character a woman. It’s a brave decision but the writing – by Murugadoss and Santha Kumar – isn’t good enough to give us a memorable heroine.
I do hope though that we’ll see Sonakshi play to her strengths more often. There isn’t much scope for nuance here but she has an emotional depth, which surfaces occasionally.
I’m going with two and a half stars.