Remo D’Souza’s latest, ABCD 2, suffers from a strange problem; it’s often let down by its raison d’être: dance. For a film revolving around a hip hop dance championship, one does expect its actors to break into twists regularly, but ABCD 2’s many and needlessly frequent dance sequences make the film appear like a bunch of loosely strung music videos that can’t tell a compelling story. What’s worse, they also end up inflating the film’s runtime: 155-minute feels at least 30 minutes more for a movie whose story can be summarised in a few sentences.
Moreover, what’s upsetting about the film is D’Souza and Tushar Hiranandani’s (credited with the story and screenplay) reluctance to flesh out its most crucial plot point. Quite early in the movie, we meet the dance team Mumbai Stunners, helmed by Suresh and Vinnie (Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor), competing for a reputed dance competition, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. Once Mumbai Stunners’ performance is over, we get to know that their dance routine was lifted from a Philippine team. Suresh and Vinnie’s troop is not only thrown out of the competition but also shamed, both by people on streets and the Internet (a YouTube video called “Same to Shame”—comparing the original and copied performances—soon becomes an Internet viral). But we are clueless why Mumbai Stunners, a bunch of performers who is really passionate about and good at dancing, decided to be so dishonest and so stupid? We have no idea who was responsible for that lapse of reason: one person or the entire team? We also don’t know why these people, who are otherwise shown as conscientious and hard-working, chose to take the easy way out? We want to know these answers, especially, because the film has this motley group repeatedly talking about a “second chance”. So in the absence of convincing answers, it becomes difficult to open up to these characters and, consequently, this film, because we don’t know what makes them so desperate and driven.
ABCD 2, however, is a much-improved effort than its prequel. This one reverberates with genuine love for the art form (as evidenced by well-choreographed dance numbers aplenty); the initial chemistry between Suresh and his mentor-to-be, Vishnu (Prabhudeva), even though half baked, is passably funny; the relationship shared by the film’s leads, Dhawan and Kapoor, doesn’t follow the tropes of mainstream Bollywood romance: they get together only by the end of the film. But even with sporadic flashes of promise, ABCD 2 ultimately remains a lesser film, because it is largely devoid of a central conflict, and D’Souza’s attempts at creating moments of tension come across as superficial. ABCD 2 is essentially about Mumbai Stunners’ core group (later called India Stunners) travelling to Las Vegas, along with its choreographer, Vishnu, to compete in a World Hip Hop Dance Championship, but it’s strange how its focus in the final segment suddenly shifts: the film’s now less about its characters’ relationship to dance, more about how it can be used to assert a national identity.
This sudden burst of patriotism in these dancers is both abrupt and unbelievable, because nothing about their demeanour before moving to Las Vegas suggested that they saw this competition as a chance to put their country on the world map. In fact, as the film implies, this competition is their chance to redeem themselves, reclaim their personal identities and presumably, given they belong to Nalasopara (one of the far flung suburbs of Mumbai), inch closer to be more deserving of the city. But instead of dwelling into these subplots in any detail, ABCD 2, in its final moments, has Indian Stunners’ members exchanging verbal volleys with a German dancer. And it shouldn’t be surprising. Bollywood films are no strangers to fixating on patriotism where a plot point requires an Indian contingent taking on a group of foreigners. Happy New Year, too, which coincidentally revolved around a dance competition, had plenty of awkward diversions into jingoism. ABCD 2, however, in its final moments, is not jingoistic, just strangely patriotic, especially because this tone seems to have emerged out of nowhere.
Based on the true story of Suresh Mukund and Vernon Montero’s Fictitious Group, which made it to the finals of the 2012 World Hip Hop Championship, ABCD 2 had a chance to say something important: about ambitions and the price people pay for them, about carving identities through something that’s typically considered frivolous, about coming to terms with lost pride. But ABCD 2 couldn’t hear these stories. You wonder why. Maybe we do know the answer: The sound from the box office cash register must have been quite deafening.
An edited version of this review was published at Firstpost.