Director: Puri Jagannadh
Starring: Vijay Deverakonda Ananya Panday Ramya Krishnan Ronit Roy
New Delhi: ‘Liger’ is a template too old for the theatrical experience. The Vijay Deverakonda and Ananya Panday starrer is like any typical-action comedy which goes way too above and below, and returns to the familiar formula territory without delivering anything substantial. Had it not been for the performances of Vijay Deverakonda, Ramya Krishnan and Ronit Roy, ‘Liger’ would be a recipe for disaster.
‘Liger’ opens with animated cast credits with an orchestra kind background score which is also used quite a lot in the film to help you recover as audiences from the meticulously choreographed action sequences.
The opening sequence of the Liger, like its screenplay, is confusing. For instance, it opens to a grand MMA championship match, Ananya Panday ( Tania) getting kidnapped, Vijay chasing a car on the streets of Las Vegas and then after building a heightened sense of momentum, ‘Liger’ immediately shifts to the streets of Mumbai to recollect the story in retrospect.
Note: The whistles on Deverakonda’s entry in a first-day, first-show did build up expectations.
Vijay Deverakonda’s character ‘Liger’ guides the narrative with a voiceover and we are introduced to Liger and his mother, Ramya Krishnan in Mumbai as tea-sellers from Benaras who want to become MMA national champions to fulfill the dream of his dead father.The angle is there but there is no plot or a way to flesh out a deeper and richer context.
The extended opening sequence has an obvious showing of Liger’s strengths and ability sequence; a brand of masculinity so much celebrated in many action-comedies of Telugu films, until it is punctured a few moments after when it is revealed that Liger stammers, is called ‘hakla’. A smoothing combination of two kinds of masculinities-one from a Bollywood angle and the other, the Telugu film industry angle.
Ramya Krishnan plays Liger’s translator, mouthpiece and a source of inspiration to help him win the MMA national championship, get over his heartbreak after Tania dumps him, and constantly reminds audiences of some painful past which is never delved into. Even though she tries to do justice to her character, it just doesn’t land. The writing is too poor for all women characters.
Suddenly after the opening action-sequence, Ananya Panday is introduced through a song and as Liger and her story lines run parallely; all you are left wondering is with every second of screen time so expensive, why waste it on futile dance sequences which lends nothing to the narrative.
‘Liger’ is a film which is good in parts. For instance; it’s mouthing-abuses-in -silence-sequence. Vijay creates a sense of violence without actually doing any of it when he is challenged by a group of martial arts trainees at Ronit Roy’s institute. The entire sequence is shot in silence complimented only by bits of background music. This is a familiar trope of many action-comedies which always seems to land.
Then , the hero-meeting heroine sequence always has to be classic. And , in ‘Liger’ too, Ananya meeting Vijay’s character is a different kind of story.Ananya plays the typical no-brainer, bratty narcissist heroine character who is all about herself.
She meets Vijay by confronting him, taking his collar by the hand and when he too does exactly the same and pulls her top; interestingly, there were claps and whistles in the theatre, almost like reinstating equality or authority in some manner which the audience liked.
Another example is Ramya’s ‘chudail’ narrative about how a girl ( Tania) would distract ‘Liger’ from his training. A politically incorrect commentary about how women lure men these days is interlaced with Ananya’s character playing into Vijay’s life. Again, a well-shot sequence with good performances.
The breaking into songs is slightly off in ‘Liger’, almost like they are placed into the narrative purposely to clear off all elements in the checklist of a formula action flick.
The action-sequences are well shot throughout the film, with ample use of camera movements to heighten and create tension in sequences. Perhaps too much of this experimentation in unnecessary ways especially in songs like ‘Aafat’, ‘Waat Laga Denge’ is a total waste.
Even breaking into songs is bad. It felt like Liger’s team was trying to justify the budget the film was made in with such forceful and completely necessary elements.
‘Liger’s plot is flat, dialogue poor, the arch and catalytic points poorly choreographed, but the performances are good. And, in some parts, it’s like the supporting cast is holding the film together.
While Vijay Deverakonda ( as Liger) is good and decent in performance throughout, Ananya Panday’s character is not fleshed out well, thus her performance is bland.
Ronit Roy and Ramya Krishnan are given the cringiest of dialogue to deliver( or is it the Hindi dubbing) but things like ‘Lion aur Tiger ki aulad hai’, ‘Please sir, India Pakistan ko harata hai… give a chance….’ are off-putting.
Not to mention the entire episode of Tania’s brother challenging Liger to say ‘I Love You’ without stammering to her and then ‘mai ise tujhe de dunga’ vibe. Completely weird and unsuited for today’s taste…
There is a slight mentor-student angle between Ronit Roy and Vijay’s character, which could have made the film look better if it was explored in some way. But, all we get is a film which can show all what Vijay Deverakonda can do and excel in; be it dance, action, romance etc. etc.
It’s like running a 2 hour 20 minute one-man show in, a portfolio of skills of sorts and no matter how much that is covered with subplots and interaction with other cast members, ‘Liger’ is full of Vijay.
Having said that, ‘Liger’ suddenly changes in pace, action, syntax in the second-half. The film scaffolds at a great pace creating an unbridled sense of anticipation.
Perhaps, Puri Jagannadh should have started ‘Liger’ the way it begins in the second half.
The second half of ‘Liger’ is all about winning championships, a silent fighter in Ramya’s character, Vijay’s training, well-shot MMA matches in the ring, getting Tania and Liger to reconcile by undoing all the political incorrectness that has happened before. This is done by getting Liger beaten by women fighters and Ananya giving it back to Liger in a long monologue etc.
The background score is good in parts and suits the syntax of ‘Liger’. Worth mentioning is the opera-kind used when ‘Liger’ beats off goons just before the interval to say ‘I Love You’ to Tania.
Had the film ended in the match-ring, it would have been much better but suddenly the Mike Tyson( as Mark Anderson) angle is brought in, fanboy moments happen and a weird-climax to heighten hero glory takes place.
Suddenly the genre of the film changes from action-flick to western-something, and ‘Liger’ is all over the place.
As audiences, you are left reeling from the catastrophic effects of the confusion of a filmmaker trying to deliver a masala-entertainer in post-COVID times. Without being harsh, ‘Liger’ is outdated and perhaps for now, the formula-film can be given a break. While as an audience, you are aware that most films were shot during/before/after the pandemic unaware of the changing consumption sensibilities of the audience, filmmakers cannot keep living in the pre-pandemic syntax when life-as-we-know-it has now completely changed.