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Kill (18)

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
Screenplay: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, Ayesha Syed

Starring: Lakshya, Raghav Juyal, Tanya Maniktala

Running time: 105 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

If we said that this was a Bollywood film, where a charismatic hero finds out his true love was being coerced into an arranged marriage, leading him to hastily board a New Delhi-bound train in a daring quest to save her from attending the ceremony, you would probably wonder why the Hell it was being covered on a genre site. Well, that’s easy. Stereotypical expectations might lead you to anticipate comic misunderstandings, elaborate costumes, extravagant dance numbers, etc. Nah. The Indian film industry is no more that than the British film industry is exclusively just Hugh Grant saying “Whoops-a-Daisy” to A-list actresses. This is strong violent stuff, with the studio names behind John Wick having already announced a (*sigh*) US remake. In fact, Lionsgate snapped it up for international distribution pretty damned quickly after a successful screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2023. Directed by seasoned filmmaker Nikhil Nagesh Bhat and providing the beefy Lakshya with a movie breakout role after small-screen success, the film has mostly been just on the festival circuit. Luckily Lionsgate have now released it across cinemas in the US, UK, and various other countries. So is it worth going in for the Kill?


The film’s low-key beginning sees Indian army commandos Capt. Amrit Rathrod (Lakshya) and best bud Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) returning from an unspecified mission. (Note: We know that Amrit is the hero as there’s a dramatic guitar riff when he takes his helmet off). He is shocked to find out that in his absence his girlfriend (Tanya Maniktala as Tulika) has been coerced into an engagement with some no-hoper due to her father’s insistence. Somewhat miffed and broody, he storms off with Viresh to put a spanner in the works at the engagement party. However, due to Tulika being wary of the number of guns present at the party (!?!), she talks him into slipping onto their outbound train to Delhi without the knowledge of her family. When they reach their destination, they will elope or at least sort out things with the family. Unluckily for them (and every other single person on that train), a large band of “Dacoits” (Indian term for bandits or armed robbers) have infiltrated themselves alongside the unwitting passengers. Led by the gang leader’s son Fani (ironic name for a character that’s a massive dick… sorry, but it has to be said… anyway he’s played with particular aplomb by Raghav Juyal), the plan should simply be to rob the passengers and make a getaway at the nearest crossing. But in a flawed attempt to impress his father, Fani crosses paths with Amrit and his companions, and it becomes the bloodiest one-way railway trip since that one train tried to get to Busan.


Remember that fight sequence between James Bond and Red Grant in From Russia With Love, or the corridor battle in Oldboy? Well, imagine them cranked up by about ten times and with loads more blood and fatal wounds. And then imagine them taking up most of the film they’re featured in rather than being just one scene. That’s something close to Kill. That goofy title (which incidentally appears as an opening credit halfway through the film’s running time in an absolutely genius moment) is an accurate reflection of the proceedings and indicates more than just the systematic slaughter of dozens. In a world where we’ve become used to seeing hordes of people mowed down by weapons in action thrillers, it’s no wonder that this Hindi beat-‘em-up has captured the attention of many who would normally avoid subtitles or write-off overseas smackdowns. Currently with an RT score of 90%, this is something different indeed.


It starts (somewhat disconcertingly) with the doe-eyed Tulika being a martyr about accepting an engagement (even though we find out later that her Dad knows nothing about her 4-year relationship with Amrit apparently). So there’s the lingering looks and all the hand-wringing that you might expect from a cultural perspective. Then when the bandits start to get rough with the passengers and Amrit responds, it comes across as a typical US 80s actioner, where a lone good guy with military training takes on masses of bad guys by opening several containers of the veritable whup-ass. The “Die-Hard-in-a-*whatever*” subgenre, if you will. That’s all well and good, and both Lakshya and Juyal are great in their hero/villain roles. It’s entertaining and inventive to an extent, with plenty of wince-worthy beatdowns and occasional slashings. Then we get to the midpoint and the shit REALLY hits the railway tracks!


Halfway through the running time, there’s an incredibly brutal narrative development that spins the dial way past “11”. It’s unexpected and if you thought it was violent before this… you ain’t seen nothing yet! This acts as an intentional (and some would say cynical, but who cares, it works) way to raise the stakes and allow an excuse for the gloves to come off. And they don’t just come off. They fly past your face, cackling evilly and flipping you the finger at the same time. That’s a visual metaphor to say that the fight sequences “evolve”, instead of merely punching people into unconsciousness, characters are intentionally eviscerated, cheeks stabbed with blades being slowly drawn across the face, eyeballs and throats obliterated, someone has their head (just their head!!) set on fire, and a fire extinguisher murder that would make Irreversible back away in shock.  Guns are unreliable, so hammers, machetes, knives, and whatever-you-can-lay-your-hands on are the weapons of the moment. All in all, it makes John McClane look like Sideshow Bob.


If that all sounds a bit juvenile and obvious, allowing for any cultural differences, there is something at play here which is subtly different to the usual formula. As the hero loses his shit and the bad guys lose their innards, you have to question the virtue of the “good guy”. In between fight sequences, it’s shown how the mob of bandits are truly connected in a familial sense. That’s someone’s father that Amrit has just stabbed in the head, it’s not an anonymous goon to them. In one shocking sequence, Amrit suspends the corpses of bandits in a carriage which the survivors have to make their way through, like a literal “Ghost Train”. It’s pretty grim stuff. It’s like that bit in Austin Powers where Dr Evil’s minions are shown to have rich social circles and private lives, except this isn’t funny.


Having said that, there is a surprising amount of cold-heartedness and lack of mercy that runs throughout the plot, especially one with such a twee romance at its centre. The bandits threaten children, kill innocents, and show a ruthless attitude towards anything apart from money and immediate family. As well as having this sensibility make Amrit go psycho, in an expected moment it is the grieving mother of a victim who takes out an intimidating henchman rather than the lead character. It’s an effective way of showing how violence begets violence, you reap what you sow, etc, etc. You get the impression that the writers and filmmakers are making some none-too-subtle comments about the rise in extremism and cruelty in sections of society.


Social commentary aside (so at least you can’t say it’s “mindless violence”) this is insanely entertaining. Yes, there are some cultural aspects (such as arranged marriage etiquette and banditry morality) that might jar a little for Western audiences.  But bearing in mind that 90% of the film is set in one of several train carriages, the fight choreography is handled beautifully. Bone-crunching punches and head-smashing utensils are wielded with supreme conviction. Of course, it’s ridiculous in concept and reality has little to do with it, common with most extreme action to be fair. But the inventive way that the claustrophobic battling is handled, along with the sheer savagery and dynamism of the plot, is very impressive. Lakshya makes a great action hero, who’s not afraid to show flaws, with muscle and blood. Juyal is an immensely hateful foe and someone edgy enough that you just cannot wait to see him get a comeuppance. If you’re looking for a different sort of fight club, here’s the answer. You won’t get over Kill.

What starts out like an 80s Steven Seagal film, turns into something much more brutal and disturbing. Aside from the Indian cinematic tropes, there are jaw-dropping moments of violence, cold-hearted twists, and some irony dished out with the blood. Extreme action cinema with a difference, with high doses of gore and intensity. First class.
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