Aakhri Adaalat

Sometimes Netflix adds a film and you think "Okay sure, why not," especially when you have domestic travel with no in-flight entertainment coming up. And even more especially when it contains favorite Vinod Khanna, even in from a non-favorite era (1988). What was it like at the time to see his return to films? Did news of the Rajneeshee horrors in Oregon reach India at the time? (My parents, who were about 40 when that happened and read the newspaper and listened to NPR every day, had no memory of it at all.) Did the Hindi film industry seem sane in comparison?

Aakhri Adaalat opens with bad guys getting away with doing bad things. The specifics don't really matter, although you will not find your efforts wasted if you happen to remember them. They're part of a ruthless, multi-interest gang led by Gulshan Grover and Paresh Rawal, who are operating in peak 80s slimeball mode.
Inspector Amar (Vinod), who is much more entertaining than his 70s namesake though just as morally upright, is on their tail, sometimes literally, as in this sequence in which he hooks the end of their getaway vehicle with a black umbrella. (WWByomkeshDo?)
But he doesn't quite have the proof for a court to convict them, so they walk away free and he sulks to lawyer pal Vinod Mehra and his mother (Sushma Seth) about the weakness of the law in dealing with India's domestic enemies. The person who can take care of the baddies is an unnamed motorcycle-riding gun-wielding figure in black leather, who tracks them down and executes them.

Vinod is also aided by the bumbling Sub-Inspector Dimple Kapadia. She somehow out-comic-reliefs fellow cop Jonny Lever, but since she is Dimple Kapadia, you know she is not long for this kind of shenanigan, and it's a good thing, because she's not good at it. At all.

Vinod and Dimple continue to try to find both the gang and the mystery assassin. They infiltrate the boss's nightclub (by which I actually mean they just show up at the boss's nightclub, where apparently no one minds their presence?), probably so that we can have an item song featuring Huma Khan and a bunch of unfortunate fellows in gold vests and Vinod can threaten to drown someone in a toilet.
The assassin shows up again, and in the chase Dimple is injured and falls into a pool, and Vinod realizes he loves her, and yadda yadda. Later, while hanging out with his mom at their house, as you do, Dimple finds the assassin's outfit in Vinod's closet, and she sticks to her duty and turns him in. He is fired and moans to his journalist friend Jackie Shroff, a jovial fellow who keeps him company peg for peg in the bar in the delightful song "Jaisa Tu Karega" while werqing some OG skinny jeans with slouchy boots.

Ok, so THEN Gulshan Grover hunts Vinod and Jackie down on the street when they're having a great time with their chaddi-buddy song (except they aren't actually chaddi-buddies, a point that becomes important later). The assassin reappears and kills Gulshan and clips Vinod, thus clearing our hero's name. Jackie is injured too, and he recovers with the help of Sonam. This romance track doesn't add much, but I like Sonam's character because she knows what she wants and goes after it while wearing bedazzled acid washed denim.
In their one previous interaction in the film, Jackie wanted none of her attentions, but his brush with death seems to have melted his heart, making me wonder if a scene or two got cut.
This is a significant smooch. Surely this film is in the list of exceptions to the "no kissing in Bollywood" "rule"?

Back at the lair, Paresh Rawal sees a vacancy in the organizational hierarchy and nabs it. He copies  the assassin's disguise and mows down innocent members of the public to sully the former do-gooder's reputation and draw the police after them. Frankly, this is quite a good idea and shows media savvy; masala villains don't usually make so much sense. The "assassin" also uses the occasion of Dimple and Vinod's engagement to kill members of their families, including A. K. Hangal just as he was about to tell us some important backstory.
Tragedy or shampoo commercial? You decide.
Finally all the good people gather their wits and work together to get everything figured out and tidied up. This involves a bit more courtroom blather than I personally care for, but it gets the job done and a bunch of side characters get to say meaningful things.

There are many things about Aakhri Adaalat that I really like.
  • It keeps the ingredient blend from 70s masala but makes it much more secular and civically-minded. The final justice comes not from hero-wielded revenge or a temple idol whose trident is conveniently loose in the howling storm of the finale but from actual Justice, still blind, and she is pissed. It's wonderful.
  • This film has a theme and sticks to it. The characters are in and out of courtrooms multiple times, and arguments, procedure, and judges are crucial. It poses (and I'd say answers) questions about whether laws work, whether problems must be dealt with according to agreed-upon and publicly-accessible standards, whether this system can actually protect the nation, and whether anyone can appoint themselves an arbiter. I've seen this kind of questioning before but about the police (e.g. thou must not stomp on the villain in thine hobnail shoes), the gods, or even the parent—but I've never seen it about the judicial system. 
  • All that said, I did not understand the film to condemn vigilante justice either. The public good is more important than due process, especially when corruption exists among those who carry out due process, as long as those enacting public good are upstanding citizens with noble credentials.  
  • During the finale in the courtroom, we all have to Think Very Hard about the perils of inaction, which is an idea I'm happy to support, especially in the despicable regime of 🍊 ☠️ and his toadies and puppet masters.
  • Sonam's character doesn't do much, but Sushma Seth's and Dimple's do. Dimple remains a police officer after her romance kicks in, and Sushma articulates and acts on her principles multiple times. They are both more interested in ethical satisfaction than emotional resolution. Seema Deo as Jackie's mom also has important things to say. 
  • If you get the sense that there are points I raise but don't complete, you're right, because this movie reveals several interconnections as it goes that could easily be spoiled. If you are a more alert viewer than I am, they probably won't be spoilers for you, but, as discussed on a recent Khandaan podcast episode about Talaash, the only film I have ever figured out right away is Kahaani
  • For being an Anu Malik soundtrack, the songs are fine, but they're improved considerably because of the picturizations, which all work really well within the film. The nightclub song "Solah Khatam Satra Shuroo" has a Laxmikant-Pyarelal-worthy opening and eager, if miscast, backing dancers. A lot of stuff happens during this song, and it's filmed with an effective approach of disorientation and confusion. As mentioned above, the drunken pals in "Jaisa Tu Karega" are the best. This is the most I have ever enjoyed Jackie Shroff. He is one of a handful of heroes whom I don't dislike but whose appeal I simply don't get: Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty, Ajay Devgn, Rajendra Kumar, John Abraham, usually Salman Khan. Maybe I haven't discerned their USPs, and maybe whatever they're doing just doesn't work for me.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Who's on your list?
Aakhri Adaalat is far better than the "I'd watch it on a plane" rationale that led me to it in the first place. Everyone involved really knows what they're doing, and they're very entertaining while also providing some unusual (at least in my viewing history) social commentary. Do watch!


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