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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is more of a Batman (hero) vs. Bane (villain) World Wrestling Federation bout where the two masked wrestlers are pitted against each other. It employs minimal CGI effects, and cinematic wizardry. Every possible and known dramatic ingredient and screenplay trick of the trade is brought into the play in a judicious way. It has a clearly defined hero and a villain, both driven by their straightforward background stories and motivations. It’s also a sentimental dialogue-oriented film with a linear narrative structure that does not tax your brain and thus is an enjoyable fare for lay-audiences. The supercool nerds who expected Nolan to come up with a multi-layer complex riddle to test their analytical skills and impress them, will be extremely disappointed and disheartened.

It is a long film (165 minutes) from Hollywood standards yet it keeps you engaged with a plethora of contrasting and useful characters and supplementary converging narrative tracks. It has an Indian connection too. A part of the film is set in Rajasthan and there are quite a few shots of Jodhpur’s majestic Mehrangarh Fort. You will also see Gotham’s richest man Bruce Wayne sleeping on a ‘chaarpai’ and recovering from a spine injury before getting back to the war zone. 

The film has opened to a bumper response all over the world. Though initial reports suggested that its release might be delayed in China. The latest news is that the Chinese Censor Board has cleared the film and it will be releasing in China as well along with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. It is termed as ‘the epic conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy’. It can just be a marketing ploy. The film leaves ample room to revive the franchise in future.

While disgraced as Batman the business tycoon and philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) nurses his physical and psychological wounds, a new masked menace and all-powerful and hulky terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) is about to hit Gotham city that feels secure under the watchful eyes of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) who is helped by a young intelligent officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Bane is not alone and he has a plan to use Wayne’s nuclear fusion based energy generator as an instrument of negotiation and destruction. Bane and his cohorts, who include Bruce’s business rival John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), launch a multi-pronged attack on Wayne Empire, and take its control. They set in motion a process that can destroy the entire city unless it capitulates before them. A smart, beautiful, savvy, and a cool cat thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) also helps invincible Bane out of fear and her innate sense of survival. We are never certain what exactly is it that Bane plans to do after taking control of the city. He comes across as an anarchist with no definite plan or purpose except fixing Bruce and punishing the ‘haves’ and rouse the ‘rabble’ of criminals and freeloaders. Wayne tries to save his empire with the help of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and nuclear physicist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) but fails. 

Bane also presents himself as the messiah of ‘have-nots’ who is fighting against the exploitative decadence and corruption of Gotham city. What more, he begins his attack from the sewers, signifying the fact that he is a product of gutter. He is out to avenge the death of his ‘guru’ Ra's al Ghul (Josh Pence and Liam Neeson), founder of the League of Shadows, at the hands of Batman/ Bruce Wayne. Bruce was part of the League once.

Bane even overpowers Bruce but does not kill him. He wants to ‘tadpao’ him and break his body as well as soul. He is like our Gabbar Singh who, before killing Dharmendra, wants him to watch Hema Malini sing and dance bare-feet on shards of broken glass and die hundred deaths in rage. Bane wants Bruce to see the destruction of his beloved Gotham city on TV lying on a cot in a dungeon located far-away in India and cry and scream in helpless frustration. The only way out of it is through an open well none had ever succeeded in climbing out of except a little boy.

And you can guess the rest without using much imagination. Bruce survives, Batman returns. He instantly unites the city against the goon brigade, wages a counter-offensive with all the good law abiding citizens and law-enforcers with him, almost gets killed in a devious betrayal by a trusted one, and defeats and kills Bane. The real brain behind Bane dies in a truck crash but sets the nuke bomb ticking and the process cannot be reversed. Batman flies away with it in his flying machine, sacrificing himself to save Gotham city from a possible nuclear holocaust, and we see the mushroom cloud of the explosion near the horizon off the coast of Gotham and mourn the hero’s death. He also inspires Selina who redeems herself by helping in Batman’s final battle to save his people and the city. Bruce’s Wayne Enterprise is wound up, and proceeds are used to fund Bruce’s orphanage to ensure that uncared for kids don’t take to the life of the sewer (underworld). The Batcave is given to young detective ‘Robin’ Blake. Is Bruce dead? But who does Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Bruce’s butler, see sitting outside a Florence restaurant with Selina? Or is it just his dream?  

Though the film engages and entertains it brings nothing new on board in terms of technique, story, narrative structure, characterizations, special effects, action, drama, and the other cinematic elements. The hand-to-hand wrestling scenes between Bane and Batman are unimaginative and dull. Rohit Shetty could have done a hundred times better job here. The bizarre elaborately ‘designed to impress’ skyjacking sequence in the beginning of the film is a recycled version of a scene from Nolan’s previous film INCEPTION, which itself was inspired by a sequence in JURRASIC PARK 2. The caving in of the football ground is old hat. The film is not as epical in its sweep as projected by its marketing campaign.

Let us come to the film’s underlying philosophy. It is so American i.e. ludicrous, idiotic. Extreme decadence leads to discontent among the marginalized classes and pushes them towards darkness, crime, and revolution. And what is the solution to the problem? The rich must be charitable and should generously fund orphanages. It should not surprise us. Such Readers’ Digest kind of crap is expected from big Hollywood films based on comic book stories. I feel even Kader Khan school of Indian dialogue writers and storyteller can come up with better gems of wisdom than this. Yes, there is this Commissioner Gordon’s speech of sympathy for the poor and the damned that reminds one of the tritest of dialogues in numerous Bollywood films.

The film's budget is $250 million (Rs.1, 250 crores). It's time Hollywood should outsource the production of these mega-film-franchises based on comic book stories to Indian writers, filmmakers, and technicians to save precious dollars. Some of our filmfakers can deliver such films at a fraction of this cost. Indians may have lost their ancient genius for original thinking, but they are number one in the art of recycling and rehashing film ideas and stories since the Chinese don't yet resort to fakery in their cinema. We are also experts at developing vicious villainous characters. That is the kind of talent required to make films like THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, or THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I was thinking what would Bane be called in Hindi? Aatank, Kala Saya, Billa, or Ranga! And I sincerely feel that Sanjay Dutt as Kancha Cheema was much more menacing than Bane. Let me dare to suggest that in terms of drama, content, and characterizations, ANGNEEPATH was a few notches above THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. It had the Chikni Chameli dance number as well.

The film is recommended for its dramatic and well-crafted screenplay, and classically simple ‘easy-to-follow-and-enjoy’ narrative. If you are looking for novelty and inventiveness here, be prepared for disappointment.

RKS 'Anaam'