White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Hindi Movie Review: Ganapath is an epic sci-fi failure that defies human logic

Tiger Shroff stars in "Ganapath," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

In a year that has seen the use of A.I. in film productions – at least those in Hollywood – consistently remain a hot topic in industry trade publications and union strike negotiations, it comes as something of a shock that actual living humans were responsible for writing and assembling Ganapath, even if it was made half a world away. The film represents perhaps the most haphazard cobbling-together of every science-fiction movie cliché to ever exist that one could have possibly imagined. Dystopian setting? Check. Epic strife between rich and poor? Check. “Chosen one” protagonist who is initially oblivious to his prophesized role? Check. Antagonist who speaks through a creepy voice-box for no apparent reason? Check. I could go on, but you could probably come up with the list yourself without even having seen the movie.

Putting aside writer/director Vikas Bahl’s insatiable appetite to rehash the familiar – so shameless it really feels like something a computer spit out – the actual execution of the script is so inept, it verges on unbelievable. This includes CGI effects so rudimentary, it appears as though the filmmakers looked at the VFX vendors’ previz renderings and told them, “This looks good enough and we’re short on cash, so we’ll consider it final.” But terrible visual effects are hardly the movie’s worst offense; from cinematography to editing to sound design, the production seems to lack any sense of proper “film language.” Which is to say, Ganapath doesn’t even feel like a real movie so much as a lot of shots that happen to be strung together – and this isn’t a case of filmmakers intentionally breaking the rules, it’s just pure incompetence.

Ganapath might actually be really enjoyable if experienced in the company of a gigantic crowd; it has the same kind of so-bad-it’s-good quality that a Neil Breen or Tommy Wiseau production exudes, making it an ideal candidate for real-time audience feedback. The only trouble is, you’re unlikely to find a large group to laugh and gasp at the film alongside you, as attendance has been miserable in the wake of terrible reviews and word-of-mouth. I was the sole person at my showing, and there was something almost unsettling about not having other audience members there to validate I wasn’t hallucinating what was onscreen.

The story is set in a dystopian year 2070, by which time only the wealthy can occupy the world’s futuristic cities, with everyone else cast out to dilapidated shacks on the periphery. Guddu (Tiger Shroff) is a lackey for “John the Englishman” (Ziad Bakri), who rules over the metropolis “Silver City” (such a creative name!) with an iron fist on behalf of the mysterious head honcho Dalini. His chief responsibility, it would seem, is overseeing kickboxing matches between poor competitors for the sheer amusement of the rich. Not only does John speak through the aforementioned voice-box – in a tone that can only be described as a mix of Darth Vader and ‘90s anti-smoking commercial voice-boxes – the performance is also an instant all-timer as far as Western characters in Indian movies go. You have never seen an actor defy any recognizable human characteristics like Bakri does here.

Guddu gets cast out from Silver City when John the Englishman accuses him of pursuing his main squeeze (yes, this is as much of an LOL moment as it sounds). After hobbling around the apocalyptic landscape outside of the city for a bit, Guddu finds a far better prospect than the one he was accused of going after, teaming up with the impossibly hot and toned Jassi (Kriti Sanon). All the while, he begins to suspect he might actually possess the supernatural abilities that make him uniquely positioned to take down John and boss Dalini. It’s only a matter of time before Jassi, herself a warrior, has him flexing his muscles in training montages and realizing that he is Ganapath, the chosen one. Oh, and it just so happens that his grandfather is actually Amitabh Bachchan.

To their credit, the lead actors try their best with the laughable material. Tiger Shroff, while not particularly talented as a thespian, is a very compelling onscreen martial artist who has the right physicality for this role. Even though the action filmmaking in Ganapath is embarrassing more often than not, the stunt-work is a highlight. With a better director, Shroff certainly has the ability to be a charismatic and engrossing lead through movement alone. Kriti Sanon is a better actress, and in action, she is compulsively watchable in the same way as Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez are. She is also stunningly beautiful in a post-apocalyptic crop-top, which always helps when an action film is floundering and the audience is looking for something – anything – to latch onto. Additionally, despite the shamelessness of the Amitabh Bachchan cameo, he does bring a certain gravitas to the material through his voice alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bachchan’s brief appearance accounted for a good chunk of the budget.

Ganapath was devised as the first half of a two-part saga, and depending on which source you choose to believe, the second half may already be shot. (There is a brief teaser before this film’s end credits.) Given Ganapath’s incredibly poor performance, however, the finished product may never see the light of day, even if principal photography has wrapped. Such a fate may ultimately be for the best, though a part of me wants to see if the filmmakers manage to take this story to even lower lows in a next installment. The saga definitely isn’t complete yet, so in idealistically dreaming of a day when willing participants can enjoy the staggering ineptitude of Ganapath at a packed Midnight showing, I have to hope we’ll get a finished Part II to screen alongside Part I.

Rating:  (out of ★★★★★)

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