Beast, an Indian anti-terrorist action film, has a wide range of tones and styles, sometimes even within the same scene or even within the same scene sequence. Even in a “Die Hard”-style siege thriller that is also occasionally a musical comedy about a handsome bachelor spy who also happens to be a child lover and is exceptionally skilled at dismembering and/or murdering terrorists, this takes some getting used to.
In this Masala-style of Bollywood pop cinema, filmmakers pander to the back row with a schizoid combination of Vaudevillian jokes and pop culture references, overdetermined love interludes and nationalistic saber-rattling, there’s nothing exceptional about the way the picture is made. This type of anti-terrorist film also fits in well with a couple of other COVID-delayed Indian movies, such as the Bollywood (Hindi language) blockbuster “Sooryavanshi” and the Tollywood (Telugu language) superhero thriller “Attack—Part 1,” both of which are currently in development.
Despite being a Kollywood (Tamil) star vehicle for Vijay, “Beast” stands apart, if only for the zeal with which its creators strive to sell their hero as a 21st century renaissance man in the film’s trailer. Vijay (“Master”) can dance a bit, drive a car through a variety of glass surfaces, and behead a terrorist before throwing the terrorist’s detached head out of a tall window, among other things. To say nothing of the moment in which Vijay dons a pair of roller blades and literally skates around a bunch of mask-wearing radicals in a circle.
As in the chorus of one anthemic song, Vijay’s all-things-for-everyone persona is extolled throughout the film. The chipmunk-cheeked star is referred to throughout as “leaner,” “meaner,” and “stronger.” Towards the end of the song, Vijay is described as “a multifaceted avatar, with multiple faces and multiple faces.” At this point in the film, Vijay is flying himself back from Pakistan on a borrowed military jet plane, having just killed a terrorist encampment on his own initiative, according to the plot.
In “Beast,” Vijay plays Veera, a former member of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence organisation who is superhumanly resourceful and intelligent. A little girl is accidentally blown up by a rocket launcher in an introductory flashback that takes place eleven years before the film’s present day. Veera left RAW eleven years before the film’s present day. After all, there’s no way to make this narrative sound any less insane than it already does, so let’s take a paragraph break.
Okay, so Veera has developed an unusual sensitivity to children, which explains why he only returns to action after hearing the cries of scared children when the ISIS-style ISS terrorists take over Chennai’s East Coast Mall, for whom he is now working for a failing security business. These terrorists are vicious, as evidenced by the way one of them back-hands a lady and traumatises a screaming girl in the video. For example, Saif (Ankur Ajit Vikal), a terrorist leader who spends the majority of the film wearing a Latex mask that strangely resembles Anton LaVey, and his traitorous accomplice, the Indian government’s unnamed Home Minister (Shaji Chen), as we see in an early scene, are led by Saif and his traitorous accomplice, the Indian government’s unnamed Home Minister (Shaji Chen).
The fact that Saif’s men are cartoonishly vicious is an unavoidable fact. Maybe it’s just that it’s not mentioned as much as Veera’s equally severe counter-measures are. It also doesn’t try to be apologetic or conflicted about its use of violence, which is skillfully played for laughs in a few of action-packed set pieces throughout the film. Another early scene features Veera slicing off the elbow joint of one of the villains, who is wearing a mask. In front of a captive audience of mall hostages, he stabs two ISS terrorists to death with a kitchen knife. Veera pretends to be dead in order to deceive his second victim when he is between murders. The captives are told that “this is all normal” after he stabs the second in the head with a machete. A later scene shows a terrified citizen (prolific Tamil comic Yogi Babu, of course) being beaten up by ISS terrorists, but he refuses to turn on Veera. This suggests that the audience does not accept Veera’s story.
Vijay is not as inspiring in “Beast” as he was in “Master,” which came out last year, but neither film is a disappointment in the Vijay department. Only because it’s crammed with tangential showcases for comedic side characters, such as irritable negotiator Althaf (Hollywood director Selvaraghavan) and clumsy security business head Dominic, does “Beast” feel like a tiny film (VTV Ganesh). Veera’s love interest Preethi (Pooja Hegde) and her insistent fiancé Ram (Rajkumar Rao) are two of the characters who appear only briefly in the film (Sathish Krishnan).
Since it needs a village to sustain Chennai’s own John McClane, the movie’s typical narrative digressions likewise appear normal enough after a while. Yogi Babu’s sub-pot says it takes a village to support Chennai’s own John McClane. Fortunately, Vijay makes up for lost time during the film’s high-octane action sequences, the majority of which are as polished and well-designed as they should be for the material. Despite the fact that Vijay’s dancing hasn’t gotten any better, he appears to be more at ease producing photo booth-worthy faces (mainly pouts and snarls) while firing a large gun in slow motion.
Accepting the inelegant, inconsistent, and even absurd terms and conditions of “Beast” is essential to fully appreciating it. As a result, there’s so much of everything—and in such random portions!—that the only thing that seems to hold this thing together is the film’s core setting and Vijay’s ample and well-publicized swagger. Almost everything he does is excellent, and it’s difficult to be upset about a film in which gory violence and/or corny humour constantly erupt in a shopping mall that advertises for Basics, Pantaloons, and the Fruit Shop on Greams Road, among other businesses. Being able to observe how the film’s ensemble cast members bravely attempt to make this clumsy action-comedy appear even vaguely normal is generally more fascinating than the film”s big action sequences. All of the things about “Beast” that don’t quite work by the time Vijay dons his in-line skates are simply serving to highlight the film’s actually endearing overabundance of cutesyness.