Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s latest film, “Kill” (2023), opened in the midnight section of the Toronto International Film Festival. It went on to become a festival favorite, with a lot of acclaimed critics pouring their love for what it had to offer. Kashyap declared it the best action film India has ever produced. Although the hyperbolic declaration stands on a conservative idea of what “action” cinema looks like, “Kill” manages to meet all expectations for an audience based on the word around it. But what exactly can you expect?

Action is not a genre per se. All cinema has action. It is essential for a genre film to try to elicit a particular type of emotion from its audience. However, participants in cinematic culture have come to view action cinema as a constituent of the pure genre, considering the mutual elements of the screenplay most action films have. A consistent threat that requires direct intervention to be mitigated/eliminated, relentless physical combat or the necessity for it, and the continuous creation of conflicts that act as the source of motivation to go on fighting until the very end. In action cinema, the resolution is rarely found in reconciliation. It is mostly one “man” standing in the end: our protagonist.

Considering the aforementioned qualifiers, action cinema can be divided into those with a screenplay predominantly involving relentless physical combat and those with the forever-looming necessity of it, with disjoint action set pieces. The former is often identified to be of the “pure” genre. For example, Gareth Evans’ much loved “The Raid” series starring Iko Uwais or Chad Stahelski’s “John Wick” series with Keanu Reeves performing anxiety-inducing gun-fu. Once the threat is set off, the protagonist cannot turn back or stop. The stakes increase rapidly, and the energy to continue declines at a competing pace. Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s “Kill” (2023) adheres to all the aforementioned. These are not merely characteristics but quality parameters that establish the film as competent.

Amrit Rathod (played by Lakshya) is an NSG commando traveling with his colleague Viresh (played by Abhishek Chauhan) on a train. He happens to be the romantic partner of Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), who comes from the family of a powerful businessman, Baldev Singh (played by Harsh Chhaya), traveling in the same train. The train soon gets hijacked by a gang of thieves led by Bani (played by Ashish Vidyarthi) and his unhinged son Fani (played by Raghav Juyal), who happens to be our antagonist. Upon coming across Baldev, Fani plans to kidnap him to extract ransom, which is quite reasonable for an antagonist who cannot see reason and acts on whims. Amrit and Viresh confront the thieves and try to contain them. But events soon turn bloodier due to the presence of a murderous rogue, and Amrit and Viresh are compelled to fight for the survival of the people.

Kill (2023) Movie Review
A still from “Kill (2023)

There are two astounding merits to the design here. Amrit fights to contain and not kill any of the people for the entire first half until a triggering event, which happens to be the most exploited trope of action cinema. After the said event, Amrit fights to kill and not contain. As a result, he turns into a monster that shouldn’t have been pushed to the edge. But despite his unrestrained wrath the audience sees unfolding before their eyes, we continue to root for him. The support is solely rooted in the annoyance caused by the antagonist. We wish for his murder. All due to the infamous trope, which amounts to nothing but emotional manipulation. However, this emotional manipulation itself is an essential characteristic of all such films, for there is no other way for them to justify their inherent violence while avoiding an overtly political theme.

That being said, the emotional manipulation the film uses to hold the audience is also confronted in quite a surprising display of awareness when the antagonist confronts the protagonist for being a monster who killed far more people in retaliation than he ever did. It may sound like an anxious ramble at first, but when it is considered, the film sounds introspective about the nature of its design.

The second merit would be the way in which the antagonists have been written. They have more than one dimension to their onscreen existence. They cry for the people they are losing along the way, they feel fear, rage and anxiety all the same. Moreover, they tender a desperate cry to leave the situation altogether. They realize they invited a certain death somewhere, and subsequently, they begin to act for survival rather than greed or revenge. Except for one of them, Fani. And that’s how a perfect balance is maintained between Fani’s unpredictable threat and the organized threat of the remaining others.

It is equally important to discuss the technical merits of the film. Se-yeong Oh and Parvez Shaikh (action directors) create a battle symphony that has no parallel in Indian cinema, given the setting. Se-yeong Oh has to his credit the stunts in Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” (2013) as a member of the Korean unit. The experience is evidently utilized as “Kill” never leaves the bogies of the train it is set in.

Kill (2023) Movie Review
Another still from “Kill” (2023)

In many action films, the action itself is hidden from the camera while the impact is shown, prompting the audience to immediately fill the gap in their cognition by imagining how the action would have looked. This is especially done in service of the stars who are helming the principal action, such as the set pieces in “Jailer” (2023) starring Rajinikanth or “Salaar” (2023) starring Prabhas. Since “Kill” is devoid of any obligation to serve its hero, and since it is also composed well, the camera captures the action sequences from the front, ensuring the audience has a complete view of all the strokes and the subsequent impact.

“Kill” is not about order meeting anarchy in a chaotic event in time. “Kill” is about orderlessness encroaching upon the orderly to the point of desolation. This is precisely why a narrative as tiring as this doesn’t become the cause of disappointment. It is completely masked by the outcome it causes. As a result, “Kill” earns a place in the memory for its composition, though not so much for its story.

PS: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat is a casteist by ignorance who has previously written and directed “Hurdang” (2022). The author of the review intends no endorsement of the director in recognizing the merits of the film in the review, “Kill” (2023).

Read More: Kill Boksoon (2023) ‘Netflix’ Movie Review: John Wick meets Kill Bill in this wildly entertaining action flick

Kill (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Kill (2023) Movie: Lakshya, Raghav Juyal, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Tanya Maniktala
Kill (2023) Movie Release: Now Playing, Runtime: 1h 55m, Genre: Action/Mystery & Thriller
Where to watch Kill

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