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Vidyut Jammwal in a still from Khuda Haafiz 2 – Agni Pariksha trailer. (courtesy: Panorama Studios)Cast: Vidyut Jammwal and Shivaleeka OberoiDirector: Faruk KabirRating: 2 and a half stars (out of 5)Vidyut Jammwal is one of a handful of Bollywood actors who genuinely fit the description of an action hero. He has the physique and the screen presence to convince the audience that he possesses the strength and endurance to pull off hand-to-hand combat without sustaining too many permanent scratches. The genre rests on make-believe. It works best when an actor can bolster the pretence of invincibility.Jammwal’s presence, however, is not the only reason why Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 – Agni Pariksha, in which he reprises the role of Sameer Chaudhary who was the first time around willy-nilly drawn into a bloody confrontation with flesh traders in an alien land, passes muster despite a predictable storyline.Director Faruk Kabir, who is also the writer of the film, demonstrates a fairly steady hand as he mounts an action film that makes good use of emotional flashpoints. Parts of the two-and-a-half-hour-long Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 feel a tad superfluous but the overall arc of the narrative is orchestrated to deliver a film that is a marked improvement on its predecessor.The first half of the film is significantly better than the second, but Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 scores consistently with its action choreography and flexible camerawork (Jitan Harmeet Singh). What is most noteworthy is that it does not hustle itself into action mode without building a sufficiently strong emotional and psychological bulwark for the formulation of the male protagonist’s vengeful avatar. The screenplay centres on a Lucknow man who is forced to take the law into his own hands when his adopted daughter goes missing and the police and a ruthless female crime boss do everything in their power (which, of course, knows no bounds) to stop him.Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 – Agni Pariksha is an actioner that delivers a strong first-half build-up that paves the way for an all-out post-interval crusade by the protagonist against the criminals and their accomplices, in uniform or otherwise.In essence, there is little that is new in this one man-against-a-broken-system construct. Worse, the film completely gratuitously alludes to a Ram Rajya under threat, for which it introduces a sermonising (and eminently dispensable) television journalist who tells us how and why ours is no country for women.The hero corners the criminals one by one. He barges into a key culprit’s locality, a colony of butchers where his way is blocked by men armed with meat cleavers. As somebody says earlier in the film, when a man has nothing left to lose, he has no fear. With Jammwal playing that man, it is not difficult to believe that he would walk into dangerous terrain and not turn into a lamb to the slaughter.On the flip side, a few of the supporting characters in Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 – they are played by accomplished actors like Rajesh Tailang, Danish Hussain and Dibyendu Bhattacharya – get the short shrift. Their entry scenes appear promising enough but as the revenge saga unfolds, they are reduced to mere footnotes.The one who mercifully isn’t – Sheeba Chaddha in the role of a ruthless law-breaker determined to protect her rapist-grandson – adds a layer to the film that turn it into something that is appreciably bigger than the action movie template it adopts. The veteran actress does not have to raise her voice to exude menace and authority – she hisses out her orders and suggestions with telling effect.Taking off from where Khuda Haafiz, which was released on a streaming platform in 2020 when cinema halls were still shuttered, left, the new film, out in the theatres, captures the fragile state of mind of the hero’s wife. In the first film, set in 2007-2008 in a world grappling with a financial slowdown, she was kidnapped by flesh traders and gangraped in a fictional Middle Eastern country.The nightmare still haunts her and she is under therapy for depression. A semblance of joy returns to the life of Sameer (Jammwal) and Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi, who does a fair job of conveying the anguish of a gangrape survivor) when a five-year-old girl comes into their lives and completes the family. But their happiness does not last very long – little Nandini is kidnapped along with an older girl from outside their school.Sameer, a middle-class businessman going through the motions of life and coping with a wife who requires constant care, swings into action when the Lucknow police refuse to act despite the growing pressure of public opinion and questions raised repeatedly by a veteran television journalist (Tailang).Sameer ends up in jail despite the judge observing that the aggrieved father’s ire is understandable. Inside the prison, he is befriended by a gang lord (Hussain), who shows him the way to go about his revenge mission. A long, graphically violent, powerfully choreographed action sequence pits him against an attacker who has been deployed to eliminate him.Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 ends in Egypt, where the young man he is pursuing is in hiding. The violence the hero perpetrates is horrifying – it is supposed to reflect the depth of his despair and the intensity of his anger.This character, unlike Jammwal’s Commando persona, isn’t a trained fighter.Sameer Chaudhary isn’t given to the kind of bluster that revenge-seekers usually resort to in Hindi films. He does not have to take off his shirt to flash a six-pack to instil fear in his adversaries. If anything, he is a silent, brooding, largely undemonstrative man who is drawn into situations he would have avoided if he could. But when he is at it, his methods are brutal and swift.In keeping with the direct and quick ways of the protagonist, barring the jail brawl sequence, none of the scenes plays out too long. Even the chases are staged with a welcome touch of minimalism, unusual for an action film fronted by a ‘tough guy’ actor. Definitely not the kind of cinematic trial by fire that many such films can be, Khuda Haafiz: Chapter 2 – Agni Pariksha is reasonably watchable.

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