16 December (2002)
Director: Mani Shankar
Cast: Danny Denzongpa, Gulshan Grover, Milind Soman
Synopsis: White collar crimes that drain the nation of precious foreign exchange is connected to the funding of international terrorism. The much-told Hollywood theme is retold in the Indian context with much needed technical wizadry.
The Hindi movie 16 December is a departure from the usual Bollywood fare in that it dispenses with the seemingly mandatory song-and-dance numbers so beloved by ‘masala’ moviegoers, and chooses, instead, to concentrate its efforts on digital SFX and a convoluted storyline. The resulting movie gives the impression that, by attempting to helm the first Indian action flick to break through into the western market, first-time writer/director Mani Shankar wrote down every staple action movie trick he could think of and attempted to cram them all into this overstuffed debut. Kudos to Shankar, then, that this effort isn’t the complete disaster it could so easily have been.
Milind Soman plays Vikram, a former intelligence agent brought back into the fold by Vir Vijay Singh (Danny Denzongpa), his former boss, who is investigating the illegal funnelling of city money into Swiss bank accounts. Working with his old team, Vikram soon discovers that what initially appears to be a case of large-scale white-collar crime is actually a conspiracy of more epic proportions, involving the financing of international terrorism and an attempt to nuke the city of Delhi.
16 December wastes no time setting itself apart from its more conventional brethren by opening with the assassination of an agent as he types a report. We see a bullet leave the gun of his assassin in slow-motion, pierce a window, enter the agent’s back and depart from his chest. It’s a good effect (spoiled somewhat by the dying man falling backwards after being shot in the back), but it also sums up the movie’s main fault: we’ve seen it all before; we’ve seen it in all those Hollywood action flicks Shankar is trying to emulate. Watching this movie is a little like watching a movie made by sixteen-year-olds with all the technical skills and none of the restraint necessary who have been given a big budget and a story outline and told to get on with it. Rather than attempting to create something new, they simply have a go at recreating all their favourite movie moments — albeit with inarguable verve and energy. So, of course, we get lots of gadgets — lots and lots of gadgets — all of which you’ve seen before (mostly in the Bond movies of the 1960s), and many of which are superfluous to the plot (do we really need a holographic chess board created by a precocious twelve-year-old boy to summarise the action that has taken place in the previous 20 minutes?). And when Shankar does hit on a good idea — such as the attempts of a dying agent to position himself so that the mini-camera he is wearing will film his killer — he overplays his hand, and makes the scene twice as long as it needs to be, thus halving its impact.
16 December, in common with most Indian films, is over two-and-a-half hours long, and while it is crammed with incident, the pace inevitably begins to slow. This is particularly true of the sequence in which Vikram has to romance a bank official in New Zealand (Aditi Govitrikar) who holds the key — well, microchip — to the accounts into which the stolen money has been channelled. Govitrikar looks lovely, but adds absolutely nothing to the plot, and merely slows down the action. And the climax, when it eventually arrives, is also poorly constructed, seeming to last forever and then falling back on one of the oldest cliffhanger plot points in the book.
Having said all that, Shankar can be proud of having delivered an energetic debut that zips along at a fair old pace, that always looks good (although the editing is a little dodgy at times), and is always watchable. And one other aspect which might add to the enjoyment of 16 December are the subtitles on the UK DVD; they were obviously written by an Indian with only the most tenuous grasp of the English language, isn’t it (sic).